Court helps candidates



More than 200 wildlife and plant species have waited years for a spot on the federal endangered species list. A recent court decision could soon put an end to their wait.

On June 20, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a 1996 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ban on citizen petitions to list candidate species. Candidates are species that the agency believes are in enough trouble to warrant protection, but that it has chosen not to list because of time and money constraints. Environmental groups, particularly the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity, have regularly petitioned to list candidates; with the ban in place, the only way to gain protection for candidates was to sue in federal court.

In 1999, the Center for Biological Diversity filed suit to force the listing of two Southwestern aquatic candidate species, the Chiricahua leopard frog and a small minnow called the Gila chub. They had sat on the candidate list since 1982 and 1991, respectively. The frog has since been listed as a threatened species, but the court decision will force the agency to make a decision in 27 months about whether to list the chub.

In the long term, center science director Kieran Suckling predicts that environmental groups will use this decision to force federal listing decisions on the 246 species on the candidate list.

But for the candidates to be listed, the service needs a fatter budget, replies agency endangered species chief Renne Lohoefener. He estimates that the service would need $24 million a year over the next five years to take care of past court orders and settlements, listing proposals and citizen petitions.

President Bush proposed $8.4 million for species listing for fiscal 2001-02, up from $6.4 million in fiscal 2000-01. That rate of spending will cover about 5 percent of the service's current listing backlog of cases, the service said in budget documents.

Says Lohoefener, "Nothing is going to happen to speed the listings until our budget increases to meet the current workload."


Copyright © 2001 HCN and Tony Davis