, May 19, 2011 (ENS) - In response to opposition by the Center for Biological Diversity, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan has stayed approval of a settlement agreement between WildEarth Guardians and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service until June 20 and ordered all parties, including the Center, back into mediation.
WildEarth Guardians reached a settlement with the agency May 10 to potentially move 839 imperiled species toward federal protection, including final protection decisions for 251 species that have been stuck on the "candidate" list, many for decades.
But the Center objected that the agreement was too weak, too vague and ultimately unenforceable.
The Center also objected to the fact that 87 percent of Endangered Species Act petitions affected by the agreement were petitioned or litigated by the Center and so needed to be resolved with the Center's approval.
"Today's ruling gives us an opportunity to fix this deeply flawed agreement," said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. "These plants and animals need a strong, binding agreement that guarantees their protection."
The Center was particularly concerned about terms in the agreement that would allow the Fish and Wildlife Service to unilaterally withdraw its commitment to list species, exclude a number of critically imperiled species, including the Pacific walrus and American wolverine, and limit protection of other imperiled species in the future.
"Protection of all the candidate species is long overdue," said Greenwald. "The Fish and Wildlife Service can save these species - and respond to citizen petitions that call for increased attention to severely endangered plants and animals - by improving efficiency and reducing bureaucratic red tape."
The proposed settlement was filed with Judge Sullivan in Washington, DC who presides over 12 cases in which WildEarth Guardians challenged the Service's failure to list species in a timely manner.
If approved, the settlement requires Interior to make final listing determinations by September 2016 for 251 species, all of which are formal candidates for Endangered Species Act protection.
In return, WildEarth Guardians would agree to dismiss its lawsuits, limit its filing of new petitions to 10 or less per year, and refrain for the next six years from suing the Department of the Interior, which includes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, over other missed deadlines for listing species.
"The candidate list has been the black hole of the Endangered Species Act, where animals and plants that deserve the protection of the Act were consigned to an endless queue," said Jay Tutchton, general counsel of WildEarth Guardians on May 10. "For species on the brink, delayed protection often equals extinction. Today's agreement will finally allow these species, that the government has repeatedly stated warrant protection, to have a decent chance at actually receiving that protection before they go extinct."
WildEarth Guardians has petitioned more species in the last four years than all other petitioners combined. Since 2007, the group petitioned over 700 of the 1,230 species for which Interior has received listing requests and has filed dozens of lawsuits to obtain findings on those petitions.
For earlier ENS coverage of this settlement agreement see: Deal Clears Path to Endangered List for Hundreds of U.S. Species
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2011. All rights reserved.
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