Big Win for Imperiled Species

Court of Appeals ruling tells feds to address rare species in line for federal protection.


Neil Levine, Earthjustice 303-871-6985


Stephanie Parent, Pacific Environmental Advocacy Center 503-768-6707

On March 21, 2002, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of quicker decisions for imperiled species that may qualify for protection under the Endangered Species Act. The court held that the government must act within a year when citizen groups such as Earthjustice seek protection for plants or animals under the ESA.

The ESA requires the government to decide within 90 days, “to the maximum extent practicable,” if a petition to list a species under the ESA contains evidence that protection may be needed. If the government finds the petition does contain such evidence, it must make a second finding to list the species, or not, within a year of the time the petition was filed.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has often taken much longer than the required 90 days to make the initial decision. The service argued that such delays also suspended the one-year deadline for the second finding but the court disagreed, finding that both the preliminary and second finding must be made within a year.

An estimated 50 citizen petitions to add species to those protected by the ESA could be affected by the appeals court decision. These petitions have been filed with the government but not acted on. They target species from the Big Cypress fox squirrel in Florida to the New England cottontail rabbit in New Hampshire to the wolverine in western states. Of the 50 petitions currently in federal limbo about 20 address species in California and the other eight western states covered by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

This ruling should force the government to get back to work to stop the slide to extinction these species are in.

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