The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announced that it has developed a six-year work plan that would allow the Service to systematically review and address the needs of more than 250 species currently listed as candidate species for protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The work plan is part of a settlement agreement (PDF) between the Service and WildEarth Guardians (WildEarth) that will be filed in a consolidated case in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
While the Candidate List was envisioned as an administrative tool that would identify species for which the Service would shortly make listing decisions, the dramatic increase of listing petitions and lawsuits has led to a backlog of species on the list. The Service has received petitions to list more than 1,230 species in the last four years – nearly as many petitions as the amount of species listed under the ESA in the previous 30 years. The work plan provides a schedule for making listing determinations for current candidates species, and it includes some species that have been petitioned for protection under the ESA.
Under the proposed settlement agreement, WildEarth, a frequent plaintiff in lawsuits against the Service, will refrain from filing actions to compel findings on new listing petitions they submit. The agreement also places limits on the amount of listing petitions WildEarth files each year. In return, the Service would prioritize listing decisions related to several candidate species.
Acting Service Director Rowan Gould noted that the Service has begun a review of its implementation of the ESA designed to identify ways to eliminate unnecessary procedural requirements; improve the clarity and consistency of regulations; engage the states, tribes, conservation organizations, and private landowners as more effective conservation partners; encourage greater creativity in the implementation of the ESA; and reduce the frequency and intensity of conflicts as much as possible. This review, Director Gould argues, will ultimately help the Service achieve its highest priority of making the implementation of the ESA less complex, less contentious, and more effective.
Numerous lawsuits related to the backlogged listing petitions led the Service to initiate the consolidation and transfer of the pending lawsuits from numerous district courts to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The Service viewed consolidation as providing a single forum in which to resolve the many issues in the various suits in a comprehensive and efficient manner. The work plan would allow the Service to focus its efforts on species most in need of protection, rather than on deadline litigation. This has been an area of growing concern for the Service’s listing determinations under the ESA.