Major endangered species pact OK?d
Bush administration agrees to quickly protect 29 animals, plants in
By Miguel Llanos
Aug. 29 ? In what?s described as an unprecedented move to protect
wildlife, the Interior Department and environmental groups are about to
announce an agreement to quickly list 29 plant and animal species under the
Endangered Species Act, sources have told MSNBC.com.
IT?S ?A SWEEPING agreement to rapidly list a large number of species
and critical habitat areas,? said one source within the environmental
community. Other sources confirmed the agreement was in the works.
An Endangered Species Act listing provides strict protection to a
species, often requiring builders and local governments to stop or curtail
development around wildlife habitat.
The source acknowledged that activists would be watching closely to
see how the agreement is implemented. ?The devil?s in the details and those
details aren?t in place yet,? the source said.
Among the 29 species are the coastal cutthroat trout (Oregon,
Washington), Bonneville cutthroat trout (Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming), Gila
chub (Arizona, New Mexico), island fox (California), pygmy rabbit
(Washington), showy stickseed (Washington), Big Cypress fox squirrel
(Florida), Mississippi gopher frog (Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana),
Southern California mountain yellow-legged frog (California), Chiricahua
leopard frog (Arizona, New Mexico), Miami blue butterfly (Florida), and the
Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly (New Mexico).
?Virtually every state except those in New England will be touched by
the agreement,? the source said. ?The western and southern states will be
EXTINCTION NEAR FOR SOME
The 29 species are all considered to be in critical condition. ?These
are species that could go extinct in a matter of weeks,? the source said.
The Mississippi gopher frog, for example, has just 100 members left
and all are in one single pond in Harrison County, Miss. Activists say the
population is threatened by a proposed housing development and highway
The talks have been under way for three months, and a formal
announcement was expected later Wednesday.
?A cooperative agreement of this scale over species listings and
critical habitat designations has never happened before,? the source added.
The Center for Biological Diversity and the Biodiversity Legal
Foundation were said to be among the groups working with Interior on the
agreement. Both groups had regularly sued to get more species listed and
they were expected to drop some of those lawsuits.
The agreement would fall to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to
implement. The service is under the Interior Department?s jurisdiction.
?Given the bitter history and legal battles which have characterized
relations between the agency and environmental groups over the past few
years,? the source said, ?the agreement is quite remarkable.?
Those legal battles began with the Clinton administration, and
environmental groups thought it would only get worse under President Bush
and Interior Secretary Gale Norton ? both of whom have made clear that they
feel government regulations often get in the way of environmental
During the Clinton years, the Fish and Wildlife Service argued that
Congress was not allotting enough money to list the majority of species
under consideration for ESA protection. But activists continued to file
lawsuits, arguing that the federal government still had a legal
responsibility to protect endangered species.
Under the Endangered Species Act, members of the public can recommend
that certain species be listed as endangered so that they will receive
federal protection. The law states officials must decide on the
recommendations within a year.
235 SPECIES DELAYED
The move to reach an agreement follows a court ruling last June that
struck down a policy allowing the Fish and Wildlife Service to delay
decisions on whether to list species as endangered.
In that court case, the Center for Biological Diversity noted that
Fish and Wildlife had delayed for 18 years a decision on whether to list a
fish called the Gila chub. A decision on whether to list the Chiricahua
leopard frog was delayed for nine years, it added. Both species are native
to the Southwest.
Calling the federal policy an ?endangered species purgatory zone,?
the center said the status of 235 species are on hold. And since 1980, the
center added, at least 39 species have been declared extinct while awaiting
BIGGER BATTLE IN CONGRESS
Even with an agreement to speed up some listings, activists say the
battle for protection is far from over.
Ed Lytwak of the Endangered Species Coalition, which lobbies
lawmakers, said an agreement is just ?the tip of the iceberg? since,
according to the Nature Conservancy, up to 3,000 other species probably
And, he said, ?it?s a stopgap measure, it doesn?t really solve the
problem of underfunding.?
The coalition notes that the Fish and Wildlife Service had said it
needs $120 million just to catch up with its listing backlog. Sen. Harry
Reid, D-Nev., had unsuccessfully tried to get $24 million a year for the
next five years for the program, and Congress instead is talking about
providing $9 million this coming fiscal year.
Lytwak said that talk, combined with the recent news of a federal
budget shortfall, means a ?very tough sell? for additional species
The source familiar with the agreement said he hoped it would create
awareness of the issue and lead to more funding. ?Maybe I?m being naive,? he
said, ?but we?re hoping this will highlight the need for more money.?
Huntsville, AL, US of A
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