Judge or­ders ac­tion on list of en­dan­gered flora, fauna

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY MATTHEW BROWN AND MATTHEW DALY

A fed­eral judge on Sept. 9 ap­proved a pair of sweep­ing set­tle­ments that re­quire the govern­ment to con­sider en­dan­gered species pro­tec­tions for more than 700 an­i­mals and plants.

The or­der by U.S. District Judge Em­met Sul­li­van means the govern­ment must act on im­per­iled species rang­ing from the north­ern wolver­ine and Pa­cific wal­rus to dozens of snails, mol­lusks, but­ter­flies and plants. Some de­ci­sions could come by the end of the year and oth­ers by 2018.

It comes af­ter the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion reached deals with en­vi­ron­men­tal groups that filed law­suits chal­leng­ing the govern­ment’s han­dling of more than 250 so-called “can­di­date species.”

Those are an­i­mals and plants that sci­en­tists say are in dire need of pro­tec­tion but that the govern­ment has lacked re­sources to ad­dress.

The agree­ments also cover hundreds of other species for which groups have filed le­gal pe­ti­tions seek­ing pro­tec­tions. The govern­ment agreed to ad­dress those pe­ti­tions, although there is no guar­an­tee of new pro­tec­tions.

Some of the species have lan­guished in bu­reau­cratic limbo for decades.

Gary Frazer, as­sis­tant di­rec­tor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice, said the af­fected species all face pos­si­ble ex­tinc­tion with- out govern­ment in­ter­ven­tion.

“These are species that are in trou­ble,” Mr. Frazer said. “Once a species has been listed, with a few ex­cep­tions, we have kept them from be­com­ing ex­tinct. This is an im­por­tant step to­ward con­ser­va­tion of all these crit­ters.”

The set­tle­ment comes as the govern­ment’s en­dan­gered species pro­gram has been un­der as­sault on Capi­tol Hill, where House Repub­li­cans sub­mit­ted a pro­posed In­te­rior Depart­ment bud­get that have would barred any new list­ings un­der the En­dan­gered Species Act. That pro­posal was de­feated in a rare bi­par­ti­san vote this sum­mer.

Mr. Frazer said that cur­rent spend­ing lev­els for the en­dan­gered pro­gram were suf­fi­cient to ful­fill Fri­day’s set­tle­ment, and that he was hope­ful the agency would have enough money in fu­ture years to honor com­mit­ments made un­der the agree­ments with two en­vi­ron­men­tal groups — the Ari­zona-based Cen­ter for Bi­o­log­i­cal Di­ver­sity and New Mex­ico-based WildEarth Guardians.

Some plants and an­i­mals cov­ered un­der the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s agree­ments were first pro­posed for pro­tec­tion soon af­ter the pas­sage of the En­dan­gered Species Act in 1973.

Govern­ment of­fi­cials said the back­log was made worse by law­suits and le­gal pe­ti­tions that dis­tracted wildlife agen­cies from needed sci­en­tific re­views and restora­tion work. Those le­gal ac­tions have con­sumed money and staff time that could be spent on pro­grams such as de­vel­op­ing restora­tion plans for strug­gling plants and an­i­mals, of­fi­cials said.

The deals signed by WildEarth Guardians and the Cen­ter for Bi­o­log­i­cal Di­ver­sity re­quire them to limit their fu­ture le­gal ac­tions against the govern­ment.

The Sa­fari Club, a hunt­ing group, had at­tempted to in­ter­vene in the case in hopes of de­rail­ing the set­tle­ment, but Judge Sul­li­van is­sued a sep­a­rate or­der deny­ing the re­quest.

At­tor­neys for the hunt­ing group said they wanted to pre­serve the rights of its mem­bers to hunt an­i­mals cov­ered un­der the agree­ments, in­clud­ing greater sage grouse and the New Eng­land cot­ton­tail rab­bit.

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