The Center for Biological Diversity plans to sue the federal government over a backlog of unreviewed Endangered Species Act decisions on at least 26 rare plants and animals.
“These animals and plants that are on the brink of extinction need protection now, but they’re not getting it because of political interference,” the center's endangered species director Noah Greenwald said in an email on Tuesday. “(Acting Interior Secretary) David Bernhardt seems determined to destroy our natural heritage.”
The Interior Department’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to a court-ordered work plan in 2016 to catch up on a list of Endangered Species Act requests that has fallen behind by 12 years or more. ESA designation determinations typically take two to three years.
At least three species in Montana are in the backlog: wolverines, western glacier stoneflies and meltwater Lednian stoneflies. All three were found to warrant protection, but still await final decisions on critical habitat or recovery plans.
Due to the federal government shutdown, no FWS representatives were available for comment.
The Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians won a lawsuit against the service in 2011 over the backlog, which resulted in expedited protection decisions for almost 200 species. The service agreed to another work plan in 2016 to finalize another 500 species due for 12-month findings, which determine whether the candidate species warrants federal protection as an endangered or threatened species.
The work plan was to be updated annually with new candidates and recovery plan needs, Greenwald said. But no work appears to have been done since the Trump administration took over the Interior Department in 2017.
Tuesday’s notice gives the federal government 60 days’ warning that the Center for Biological Diversity intends to sue over the work plan progress.
“To date, the Trump administration has listed just 16 species for an average of eight per year,” the notice stated. “This is the fewest number of listings in the first two years of an administration since the Reagan administration. By comparison, the Obama administration listed a total of 72 species during the first two years and a total of 357 species for both terms(.)”