May 13

The US government has announced a deal with conservationists to process a backlog of more than 250 threatened species which may merit greater protection under the Endangered Species Act.  

The 251 species, which have already been identified by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as being at potential risk, will take priority in the organisation’s workload over the next 6 years. If a federal judge approves the agreement, most species would likely be proposed for either Threatened or Endangered status.

Photo of immature male Canada lynx in stalking stance

The Canada lynx – one of the species to be assessed.

An avalanche of petitions 

The backlog of cases is said by the Wildlife Service to have resulted from an avalanche of petitions and lawsuits filed by environmental groups over proposed endangered species designations. The Service was apparently unable to meet deadlines as they had to deal with requests for the listing of more than 1,230 species, meaning they could not focus on the animals and plants that were at greatest risk. 

Gary Frazer, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Assistant Director for Endangered Species, said the new plan will enable officials “to focus efforts on the species most in need of protection, something we haven’t been able to do in years”. 

The species to be reviewed range from the greater-sage grouse and Canada lynx, to 110 plants and 38 kinds of molluscs.

Photo of male greater sage-grouse on lek

The habitat of the greater sage-grouse is under threat from oil and gas activities.

Industrial conflicts 

Critics of the decision have said that evaluating the status of these species will lead to a great number of conflicts with industrial development, water management and residential expansion, wherever humans are encroaching into the US wilderness. 

J.B. Ruhl, a property law professor and endangered species expert from Florida State University, said he expects the aquatic species covered in the announcement to be the source of the most controversy, due to increased competition for water resources. 

More and more we’re seeing aquatic species driving water-management decisions, not just in the West, but I think that’s going to creep over to the East as well,” Ruhl said.

Photo of wolverine in snow

Controversially, the wolverine - threatened by climate change - has not been included in the deal.

Administration redeems environmental credentials 

Environmental groups had previously accused the Obama administration of doing little to improve on what they consider a dismal record on endangered species under President George W. Bush. 

The Obama administration has listed 59 species as endangered – a rate of about 30 a year. Although that is up significantly from the Bush years, when the average was 8 per year, it is still far behind the 65 species per year under the Clinton administration. 

Some conservationists said Tuesday’s proposal redeems the administration. 

Today’s announcement greatly changes the legacy and the track record that Obama is going to have,” said Leda Huta of the Endangered Species Coalition. 

Read more on this at the New York Times – U.S. Reaches a Settlement on Decisions About Endangered Species 

View more species from the US on ARKive. 

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author

  • Doug Norris (May 14th, 2011 at 9:49 am):

    I find it amazing that in the 21st century that animals like the Wolverine are no considered worthy to conserved. This “not so sexy” species appears to suffer from the same prejudices as Africa’s spotted Hyaena. Both species, with strong jaws that are able to consume bone (and hence recycle it) and a an ability to dispose of carrion have very valuable niches in nature. If we remove them, the consequences will be far-reaching.