Number of Species on Waiting List for Endangered Species Act Protection Drops to Historic Low

For Immediate Release

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Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681, tcurry@biologicaldiversity.org

Number of Species on Waiting List for Endangered Species Act Protection Drops to Historic Low

Successful 2011 Settlement Spurs Progress in Species’ Protection

WASHINGTON - The number of animals and plants on the waiting list for Endangered Species Act protection has dropped to its lowest levels since the “candidate” list was begun in the 1970s, according to an updated list released today by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Triggered by a settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups in 2011, the agency has made great progress in addressing the backlog of species in need of protection. The Service announced today that only 60 species — 42 animals and 18 plants — remain on the candidate waiting list for protection.

“The Endangered Species Act has prevented the extinction of 99 percent of the plants and animals under its care, but the law only works after species make it onto the list. It’s heartening to see so many more species now getting the protection that will save them,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center.

In 2011 the Service and the Center reached a landmark agreement requiring the agency to make final protection decisions on the 251 species on the candidate list as of 2010, as well as initial decisions on 506 additional species petitioned for protection under the Act. Under that agreement for 757 species, 151 species have gained final protection to date, and another 71 have been proposed for protection.

Species that have already been protected under the agreement include the yellow-billed cuckoo, a beautiful bird found along streamsides in the West that had been waiting for protection since a 1998 Center petition; the Oregon spotted frog, threatened by wetland loss, which had been waiting since a 1989 petition; the Ozark hellbender, an ancient salamander threatened by water pollution that had been waiting for protection since 2004, and the Dakota skipper, a prairie butterfly that had been waiting since 1978. 

Candidate species are species that warrant federal protection but are placed on a waiting list where they do not receive any substantive protection. More than 40 species have gone extinct while waiting for protection.

The only species added to the candidate list this year was the Sierra Nevada red fox — the result of a 2011 Center petition to protect the California alpine dweller. Other animals still waiting on the list include the Pacific walrus, which is threatened by diminishing ice pack due to global climate change; the Hermes copper butterfly in San Diego; and the eastern population of the gopher tortoise, a keystone species in the longleaf pine habitat of the southeastern United States.

"Scientists agree that the planet’s currently undergoing a major extinction crisis, the sixth in Earth’s history," said Curry. "The Endangered Species Act is one of the strongest laws any nation has to safeguard biological diversity in the face of ever-increasing threats."

Although the Fish and Wildlife Service has successfully reduced the candidate backlog, hundreds more species await consideration for protection. The Service acknowledged in today’s notice that more than 500 species await a status review to determine if they warrant protection. 

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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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