Responding to yesterday’s announcement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) that it will not list any more species as endangered or threatened in 2001, Heather Weiner of Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund said, “This decision is completely irresponsible and will do nothing but harm the very species and habitat Fish and Wildlife is supposed to be protecting.” The agency declared that it will forego listing any species under the Endangered Species Act as either threatened or endangered in 2001, unless it is ordered to do so by a court or in an emergency. The self-imposed moratorium on adding new members to the endangered list comes from a “stop work” order from FWS Director Jamie Clark.
“The Service is claiming that all of the litigation they are faced with has consumed their listing budget,” said Weiner. “But we know that’s not really the case. The problem stems from the fact that the requests for funding have dropped, and so have actual allocations. If they don’t ask for the money, Congress certainly isn’t going to give it to them.”
FWS requested $7.2 million for FY2001 for its listing budget. That is less than last years’ $7.55 million request and almost $3 million less than requested in 1992 under the Bush Administration. Congress appropriated only $6.4 million for FY2001 for listing activities. Ironically, the Clinton Administration specifically asked Congress to limit its funding at levels below the former Bush Administration’s requests. And Secretary Babbitt asked Congress to legislatively cap those low amounts to prevent courts from ordering him to spend more on species protection.
“Since 1997 Secretary Babbitt has asked Congress to tie his hands behind his back and stop him from listing too many species, or designating their critical habitat, because it is too politically controversial,” said Weiner. “Now that short-sighted political move has crashed the whole system.”
Due to its failure to keep up with the deadlines in the Endangered Species Act to list species and to designate their critical habitat, Fish and Wildlife Service faces an enormous backlog of court-ordered decisions:
FWS missed the deadline for designating critical habitat for about 90 percent of all 1,200 species now listed in the United States – close to 300 of those species are now under court order for designations within the next few years and many more court orders are pending.
More than 300 species are considered candidates or are proposed for listing. But unless a court orders it or the species faces a dire emergency, no new species will receive federal protection any time soon.
The Nature Conservancy estimates that about one-third of the nation’s wildlife is imperiled and may need protection under the ESA. Petitions to list those species will not be processed.
Director Clark’s memo points a finger at “the large amount of litigation” for consuming the small listing and critical habitat budget. “Regions should immediately stop work on packages in progress that are not subject to court orders and settlement agreements…”
“The hundreds of lawsuits, settlement agreements, and court-ordered deadlines are from people all over the country who care about protecting their local wildlife,” explained Weiner. “And now hundreds of declining species will get closer to extinction while the agency plays the blame game. They have no one to blame but themselves.”