Hundreds of Species Could Receive New Protections Under the Endangered Species Act

Hundreds of species of flora and fauna are currently being considered for potential new federal protections under the Endangered Species Act. Of more than 700 species, some are already on the endangered species list but need additional protection, and some are hovering on the brink of extinction until they can receive federal protection and begin to recover. The species represent a wide variety of plants and animals in several regions of the United States.

Although the Fish and Wildlife Service has already advanced roughly 500 species towards eligibility for new protections, the federal agency does not have to approve the 700 species being considered, if it does not deem these species endangered enough to warrant additional protection. Around 40 species, including the Plains bison and the Utah Gila monster, have already been rejected from the new regulations, but these rejections can be challenged in court. Some of these species are considered appropriate for new protections by the FWS, but the government has not listed them due to a shortage of funds and resources needed to conserve and restore these populations. Decisions on some species have been postponed for future years; these include Alaskan walruses; the greater sage grouse, native to the western portion of the country; and the Sonoran desert tortoise, which lives in California and Arizona. If these animals are eventually considered endangered or threatened, protections placed on them could impact future development and oil drilling, particularly in the case of the walrus, whose Alaskan habitat is significantly affected by climate change.

Among the long and diverse list of North American species are 35 Nevadan snails, 99 Hawaiian plants and 82 Southeastern crawfish, as well as lizards, butterflies, mollusks, birds, insects, frogs, fish, rodents,  and land and marine mammals.

The Endangered Species Act was originally signed under President Nixon’s administration in 1973 and was designed to prevent extinction, maintain species population and aid in the species recovery of populations lost or decreased due to a variety of factors, including habitat loss and human influence. The Act covers both flora and fauna, and nearly 50 species have been delisted since its inception, mostly due to dramatic increases in population and successful recovery efforts. The Act also requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which includes the National Marine Fisheries Service, to identify potential candidates to be listed as endangered or threatened, and to draw up conservation plans for these species. Currently, around 1,400 species are on the list, and punishment for knowingly taking or killing an endangered animal includes expensive fines and, in some cases, a jail sentence.

Some Republican lawmakers have denounced the new protections as an unnecessary move that will stunt economic growth; earlier this year, they unsuccessfully tried to cut funding needed to apply protections to new species. Federal programs that assist endangered animals asked for $25 million in funds for 2012, an 11 percent increase from current funding. No concrete data is available to determine how much additional funding would be needed if hundreds of new species were added to the endangered species list. The money helps establish and maintain species recovery programs and conservation efforts for plants and animals listed as endangered.  

A significant number of plants and animals placed under new protections would likely mean that the Obama administration would receive a better rapport from environmental groups. The president and his administration have come under criticism lately for the decisions to delist gray wolves as endangered, and for the decision not to seek stricter air quality standards and lower smog levels under the Clean Air Act.

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