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