In a slap at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a federal judge ordered the agency March 14 to list four species as endangered and to set aside the most important habitat for them and two others already listed.
District Judge Roger
Strand chided the service for having repeatedly missed
congressionally imposed deadlines under the Endangered Species Act
by 11 months to more than two years. Affected by the decision are
the jaguar, the Sonora tiger salamander, the Canelo Hills ladies'
tresses, the Huachuca water umbel, and the previously listed
Southwestern willow flycatcher and cactus ferruginous pygmy
All depend at least in part for their
survival on one of the Southwest's most battered habitats: the
cottonwood-willow forests that have largely succumbed over the
years to groundwater pumping, cattle grazing, firewood cutting and
"The courts are now recognizing
that the agencies are not credible in their efforts to protect
species," said Robin Silver, conservation director for the
Southwest Center for Biological Diversity, which had filed suit to
get these species listed and their habitats
The Fish and Wildlife Service has not
commented on the decision or decided whether to appeal. Its
attorneys had argued that the federal agency lacked staff and money
to meet its deadlines, and that priorities had to be set for which
species to protect.
The judge ruled that while
officials have the power to decide how to spend the money they get,
"they don't have carte blanche to decide not to carry out their
duties under the guise of resource allocation."
Now, the cash-strapped agency must decide how to
protect these species in the face of strong resistance from
ranchers, developers and other private interests. Environmentalists
say the first and boldest step the service could take would be to
quickly develop recovery plans for each species, because that would
clearly spell out how developers and other private interests could
be affected by the listings.
Fish and Wildlife
Service officials say they are more likely to protect these species
with gentle approaches such as habitat conservation plans and other
negotiated agreements with ranchers and landowners than with
regulations or enforcement orders. But they cannot say when they'll
have a plan for any of these species. That includes the
Southwestern willow flycatcher, listed in 1995 and down to 300 to
"Our problem is that the same person
who would be doing a recovery plan has to do consultations with
other agencies and work with landowners," said Sam Spiller, field
supervisor for the service's Phoenix office. "All I can tell you is
that we know (plans) are needed and we will try to complete them."
Tony Davis reports from