HONOLULU - February 19 - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it is proposing a Hawaiian plant, Phyllostegia hispida, from the island of Molokai as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. The plant is the first of 280 species that are candidates for protection as endangered species, including 105 from Hawaii, to be proposed for protection in more than three years. The agency has not protected a single new species in 650 days, which includes the entire tenure of Dirk Kempthorne as Secretary of the Interior and is by far the longest period without a new species being protected since the landmark federal law was passed.
“We are heartened this one extremely endangered Hawaiian plant will finally receive the protection it so badly needs to survive,” said Noah Greenwald, science director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Bush administration foot-dragging, however, is placing hundreds of other species at risk of extinction.”
In November 2005, the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups filed a lawsuit, which is still pending, charging that the Bush administration is using the candidate list as a stall tactic to prevent species from being placed on the endangered list. On average, the 280 candidate species have been waiting for protection for 19 years. Such delays have real consequences, with at least 24 species having gone extinct after being designated candidates for protection.
“Because extinction is forever, delays in protection of the nation’s most imperiled species are unacceptable,” said Greenwald. “The Endangered Species Act can save these 280 species, but only if they are granted protection.”
Phyllostegia hispida was first made a candidate species in 1997 and was one of three Hawaiian plants that were recommended for emergency protection more than two years ago. Discussing the three plants, an internal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service email, dated October 26, 2005, and obtained by the Center, concluded that “in light of the news” that another Hawaiian plant was going to be “recommended from removal from candidate status because it is extinct (!)” that they “should give serious consideration to emergency listing one or more of these species.” The email further notes “particularly with just two individuals left of Phyllostegia hispida it seems to me that we ought to take a very hard look at emergency listing at least that one.” Despite the perilous status of this plant, the agency has taken over two years to finally propose protection for the species and has apparently yet to take action on the other two plants discussed in this email — not to mention hundreds of other candidate species.
Overall, the Bush administration has protected the fewest species of any administration in the history of the Endangered Species Act, to date protecting only 58 species, compared to 522 under the Clinton administration and 231 under Bush Sr.’s administration. On average, the administration has listed only seven species per year. By contrast, an average of 45 species per year was listed from 1974 to 2000, and 73 species per year were listed from 1991 to 1995.
“This is the slowest rate of protecting species of any administration in history,” said Greenwald. “The nation’s endangered wildlife needs protection, not foot-dragging.”
Proposed listing of Phyllostegia hispida.
2005 Email discussing emergency listing.