Tell it to the judge

  The fate of 95 species of Southwestern wildlife is hanging in the balance. It's been over a year since the species were proposed for listing by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the nonprofit Southwestern Center for Biodiversity says it will sue if nothing is done by June 13.


Seventy-one of these species, including the San Xavier talsussnail, found so far only on a tiny tract of private land in Pima County, Ariz., were proposed as endangered, the rest as threatened. Most live in California or Arizona and include mammals, reptiles, fish, insects and flowering plants.


The Endangered Species Act gives the federal agency a year to designate a species as threatened, endangered or stabilized after it has been proposed for listing. But Susan Saul, a spokeswoman for the federal agency, says funding cuts and a year-long 1995 congressional moratorium caused a backup of listing activity for endangered species. What's more, the Fish and Wildlife Service has only $145,000 each year to spend on evaluating and listing all endangered species, and Saul estimates the agency needs over $5.2 million to deal with the backlog. Lawsuits don't speed up the process, she adds, they just change the order of species getting attention, "and that makes the system less effective in the long run."


Kieran Suckling of the Tucson, Ariz.-based Southwest Center for Biodiversity finds the agency's explanations wanting, since it hasn't completed a listing for an endangered species in the Southwest in 10 years. He says the money is available in the agency; it's just a question of pulling it from other programs and directing it towards endangered species.





"Every time we get a judge behind us, (the agency) seems to magically find the money," he says, "but the money doesn't flow until the court order does."


*Emily Miller





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