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Biodiversity: Is the endangered species logjam broken?

Two Rocky Mountain conservation groups drop lawsuits

Long-running legal tussles over rare species like wolverines may soon be resolved as the federal government has agreed to make timely decisions on endangered species listings. PHOTO COURTESY NATIONAL PARK SERVICE.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Two Rocky Mountain-based conservation groups are dismissing their endangered species lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service after a related landmark case was recently settled.

Rocky Mountain Wild and the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance said they will drop their claims in a lawsuit pending since 2004 over the federal government’s failure to make progress in protecting plant and animal species found to be in need of Endangered Species Act protection. The case, which has been before Judge Gladys Kessler in U.S. District Court, addressed the backlog of species needing to be listed under the Act, which has grown to more than 250 species.

The related case was being pursued by New Mexico-based Wild Earth Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity before U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan. The settlement requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to make final listing determinations for 251 species by September 2016.

All 251 of these species are official candidates for Endangered Species Act protection. At least 150 of these species have been waiting over 20 years for a final listing decision to be made. The settlement also includes a two-year work plan for the service to make findings on other citizen petitions requesting species be added to the endangered list.

“We are happy to support the plan put forward in the Sullivan case to fix the broken listing system at the Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Matt Sandler, an attorney at Rocky Mountain Wild.  “Many species in our region that have been stuck on the candidate list are in urgent need of Endangered Species Act protections, and we are encouraged to see the Service agree to a path forward.”

Species in the Southern Rocky Mountain region of Colorado and Wyoming that will be affected by this settlement include the greater sage-grouse, Gunnison sage-grouse, lesser prairie-chicken, Rio Grande cutthroat trout, wolverine, and a number of rare plant species.

“We are glad that our lawsuit, which raised these issues back in 2004, was instrumental in bringing about the plan that the government will now follow to get out of the hole it has dug over the years,” said Josh Pollock, Conservation Director at Rocky Mountain Wild. “We hope that the Fish and Wildlife Service’s new work plan will fix a system that has been broken for so long, but we will remain watchful in the coming years and won’t hesitate to renew our legal challenge if appropriate.”

“Candidate species are, by definition, the ones at risk of extinction. Yet, historically, they remain stuck in bureaucratic limbo,” said Duane Short, wild species program director at Biodiversity Conservation Alliance. “Too many candidate species have gone extinct while waiting for the protections they deserve. If the government follows the work plan in the settlement, they will avoid further trends towards extinction and make it easier to recover wildlife species that can one day be taken off the Endangered Species list. After all, this is a goal conservation groups, the government and just about everyone shares.”

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