U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service releases Roadmap for speeding Protection of hundreds of species under Historic Settlement Agreement

WASHINGTON / February 8, 2013 — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today released a four-year work plan detailing how it will implement a far-reaching 2011 settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity that requires Endangered Species Act protection decisions for 757 species. The work plan lays out the years in which all the species in the agreement will get protective decisions or critical habitat designations. Under the settlement, 54 species have so far been protected and 66 have been proposed for protection, including American wolverines, lesser prairie chickens and Ozark hellbenders.

The wolverine, the largest land-dwelling species in the mustelid family, is famous for its daring and tenacity — it’s been known to prey on animals as big as moose, and many stories tell of mountain lions, bears and wolves retreating from their kills at a wolverine’s approach. Unfortunately, in the contiguous United States, this tough scavenger-predator is barely holding on. Trapping and habitat loss have been dramatically shrinking its populations for more than a century, and now it’s faced with new human threats like snowmobiles tearing through its habitat and, worse, global warming threatening the deep snow it relies on for life activities from travelling to denning and raising kits. Yet the federal government has repeatedly refused to protect the wolverine, first denying proof of its peril in the lower 48 states and then declaring that, while the animal may be imperiled here, it doesn’t need to be listed under the Endangered Species Act because wolverine populations in Canada are still stable. Like many other species, from the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl to the Mexican garter snake, the American wolverine has been denied the protection it needs simply because its peers across the border are more widespread. In September 2008, the Center and nine allies sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for deciding not to protect the wolverine and letting political considerations — such as the implications of protecting another global warming-threatened mammal — win out over scientific findings on the animal’s danger. Nine months later, the Service agreed to re-examine the wolverine’s situation, but in December 2010 merely put the mammal on the candidate list, to await protections indefinitely. In July 2011 the Center reached a landmark settlement with the Service compelling it to move forward on listing 757 species, including the wolverine, whose final decision is expected in 2014.

Wolverine has already been proposed for protection. © Jeffrey C. Lewis / U.S. Department of Transportation

“Our agreement is already working to speed up protection for hundreds of species across the country,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “This work plan is important because it sets out exactly when species will receive protection, which is important for local governments, landowners and others to begin the tough job of ensuring the survival and recovery of these species.”

In some cases the plan provides additional detail about what protection species will receive. For example, it specifies that Fish and Wildlife will propose critical habitat for lesser prairie chickens this year, providing some hope the agency is serious about protecting these showy and severely imperiled birds. In another case it specifies that, in addition to protecting Mexican garter snakes, the agency will make a protection decision for narrow-headed garter snakes. Both snakes are residents of southwestern rivers and were petitioned by the Center.

Other species to receive protection decisions this year include eastern small-footed bats and northern long-eared bats, two species the Center petitioned because of the threat of the epidemic called white-nose syndrome, which has killed more than 7 million bats and continues to spread; Kittlitz’s murrelets, also petitioned by the Center and threatened by climate change; and Oregon spotted frogs, which have disappeared from more than 90 percent of their native range over the past half-century.

“The settlement agreement is working to move protection forward for some of the most endangered wildlife in the United States,” said Greenwald. “The Endangered Species Act is recovering hundreds of species across the country, but it can only start helping species once they’re actually listed as threatened or endangered.”

Source: Center for Biological Diversity