The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681

Obama Administration Denies Endangered Species Act Protection to 251 Species

Imperiled Plants and Animals Relegated to "Candidate" List Where They'll Languish for Years Without Protection


The Obama administration
today denied Endangered Species Act protection to 251 plants and
animals that government scientists have said need those protections
to avoid extinction. Instead, the administration has placed them
indefinitely on a list of "candidate" species, where many have
already languished for years without help.

"The Obama administration has no sense of
urgency when it comes to protecting imperiled plants and animals,"
said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for
Biological Diversity. "With extinction looming, imperiled species
need more than promises of hope and change. They need real
protection, and they need it now."

So far, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service under the Obama administration has provided Endangered
Species Act protection to just 51 plants and animals, and only one
of those occurs in the continental United States. By comparison, the
Clinton administration protected 522 species; the George H.W. Bush
administration protected 231. The average annual rate for the Obama
administration is 26, while for the Clinton administration it was 65
and for the first Bush administration it was 58.

"The Obama administration has been
abysmal when it comes to protecting our most vulnerable plants and
animals," Suckling said. "The Endangered Species Act can save these
251 species, but only if they are granted protection."

Many of the "candidate" species have been
waiting for protection for decades, including the white fringeless
orchid, which has been on the waiting list for 30 years, and the
eastern massasauga rattlesnake, which has been a candidate for 25

Delays have real consequences. At least
24 species have gone extinct after being designated a candidate for
protection, including the Louisiana prairie vole, Tacoma pocket
gopher, San Gabriel Mountains blue butterfly, Sangre de Cristo
peaclam from New Mexico and numerous Hawaiian invertebrates.

The Center and other groups have an
active lawsuit in Washington, D.C., showing that continued delays in
protecting the 251 candidate species is illegal because the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service is not making expeditious progress listing
species as required by the Endangered Species Act.

Background on the Candidate Species

The 251 candidates include a wide variety
of species, from shorebirds such as the red knot, which migrates
along the Atlantic Coast during one of the longest migrations in the
animal world, to the aboriginal pricklyapple, a cactus found in
Florida, to the Pacific fisher, a relative of the mink and otter
that is dependent on old-growth forests on the West Coast. Being
designated as a candidate does not provide any formal protection to
the 251 species, a number of which have been waiting for protection
for almost as long as the Endangered Species Act has existed. On
average, the candidates have been waiting 20 years for

The current review includes five new
species since the last review: the Kentucky arrow darter, a fish in
danger of extinction due to surface coal mining and gas exploration
in eastern Kentucky; the Rosemont talus snail, a highly endangered
snail that occurs only in the footprint of a proposed copper mine
outside Tucson, Ariz.; the Kenk's amphipod, a crustacean threatened
by urban sprawl around Washington, D.C.; Packard's milk vetch, a
plant in Idaho threatened by off-road vehicle use and invasive
plants; and the Vandenberg monkeyflower, a plant threatened by
development in Santa Barbara, Calif. One species, the Palm Springs
round-tailed ground squirrel, was removed from the candidate list
due to the development of a Habitat Conservation Plan.

Each of the candidates are given a
priority number ranging from 1 to 12 based on their taxonomic rank
(e.g. species, subspecies or population) and magnitude and immediacy
of threats, with lower numbers indicating higher priority. The
majority of candidates are rated as either priority 2 or 3, meaning
they are in immediate danger of extinction.

The following are but a few examples of
the candidate species:

Oregon spotted frog -
The Oregon spotted frog has been waiting for protection since 1991.
It is found in California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia
in wetlands from sea level to at least 5,500 feet. The frog's
habitat has been lost at an accelerating pace, and the species is
now absent from up to 90 percent of its former range, including all
of California.

Sonoyta mud turtle - The
Sonoyta mud turtle has been a candidate since 1997. In the United
States, it has been reduced to a single reservoir in Arizona that is
isolated from populations in Mexico. The turtle eats insects,
crustaceans, snails, fish, frogs and plants. Females bury their eggs
on land.

Florida semaphore cactus
- The Florida semaphore cactus has been waiting for protection
for six years. It is a large prickly pear cactus from the Florida
Keys that was thought to have been driven extinct by cactus
collectors and road construction in the late 1970s, but was
rediscovered in the mid-1980s. Much of its historic habitat has
fallen prey to development, destruction and fragmentation. Just two
populations remain.

Eastern massasauga - The
eastern massasauga is a wetland rattlesnake of the Midwest and Great
Lakes, and has been found in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan,
Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Ontario,
Canada. It has been waiting for protection for 25 years, having been
made a candidate in 1982. The snake is extirpated from 40 percent of
the counties it historically inhabited due to wetland losses from
urban and suburban sprawl, golf courses, mining and

Parachute beardtongue - The
Parachute beardtongue, also known as the Parachute penstemon, is an
attractive perennial plant that grows on rocky cliffs above the
Colorado River near the town of Parachute, Colo. It occupies just
two locations of less than one-third of a square mile. The
beardtongue has been listed as a candidate for protection under the
Endangered Species Act since 1990. Both populations are on lands
slated for oil-shale mining.

White fringeless orchid -
The white fringeless orchid is a two-foot-tall herb that grows
in wetlands in the Blue Ridge Mountains and Alabama's coastal plain.
It has been found in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and South
Carolina, and has been a candidate for 30 years. The orchid is
limited to 53 locations.

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.

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