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Lawsuit spurs endangered species reviews

  Dozens of endangered species are finally getting their five-year checkups. But some property-rights proponents want even more done.

In July, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began working through its backlog of five-year reviews for flora and fauna protected by the Endangered Species Act. The mandatory reviews assess the health of a species, and can lead to a change in its status or even its de-listing. Nationwide, the agency will review 71 species; 31 of them are in California.

But a lawsuit filed in March, led by the California State Grange, calls for reviews of 166 additional species. The group’s attorney, Rob Rivett, says his clients want those tardy reviews finished, because protections for those species often affect their businesses.

Reviews have been on the back burner. Instead, the agency has focused on "putting dollars on the ground" for species recovery, says spokeswoman Alex Pitts of the California-Nevada office. She says the new reviews will draw on each agency office’s existing budget.

Peter Galvin of the Center for Biological Diversity questions why groups that have long opposed the Endangered Species Act are suddenly pushing for reviews. He believes the lawsuit is part of an industry trend of suing for status reviews, hoping for rule changes, such as those that recently decreased protection for the marbled murrelet and Pacific coho salmon. The Center, he says, will intervene in the federal case, to ensure the reviews "won’t become some Frankensteinian perversion of science."