The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

New Federal Policy on Endangered Species Decision Process Will Push Less-studied Species to Extinction


In a move that will condemn uncharismatic, little-studied species to greater risk of extinction, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today finalized a new methodology for prioritizing decisions on whether species petitioned by citizens and conservation groups warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act. The Service claims the policy, which places species into one of five categories or "bins," is intended to provide clarity and transparency as the agency evaluates nearly 500 plants and animals backlogged for protection decisions. But in practice the policy will leave species vulnerable to extinction when limited information is available about them, or when conservation efforts or new science is underway but not completed.

"This policy will create a purgatory where decisions are postponed but threats aren't addressed," said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center. "Conservation agreements can take years to decades to develop, and the need for more study is a well-worn excuse that can always be used to delay protection decisions."

Pending status reviews will now be placed into one of five categories, based on available data, threats, conservation efforts planned or underway, and any new or developing science: 1) High Priority Critically Imperiled Species; 2) Strong Data Available; 3) New Science Underway; 4) Conservation Efforts Underway; and 5) Limited Data Currently Available.

Giving lowest priority to species where limited information is available will bias decisions toward certain groups. For example, 99 percent of mammals have been evaluated for extinction risk, but less than 1 percent of insects and less than 4 percent of plants have been evaluated. Unpopular species, like mollusks and crayfish, will unfairly wait longer for protection because not as much is known about them, even though they are highly threatened.

"This is a sad day in the battle to protect all the species that make up the web of life we all depend on," said Curry. "Under this industry-friendly policy, species will simply be sacrificed to extinction while the Service plans conservation efforts or waits for better research."

Of further concern, the prioritization categories have considerable overlap, which will foster confusion and controversy. For example, a high-priority critically imperiled species could experience prolonged delay in listing if it is being studied or conservation plans are in development.

"We're in the midst of an extinction crisis, and what we really need as a nation is to prioritize funding so that the Fish and Wildlife Service has the staff to be able to actually protect all the species that are at risk of extinction before we lose even more of our natural heritage," said Curry.

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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