Court approves endangered species settlement
A federal judge on Friday approved an agreement that puts a timetable on final listing decisions about hundreds of species that are candidates for Endangered Species Act protections. The court gave the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service four years to clear the backlog of more than 850 plant and animal species that are awaiting determinations and bogged down in various stagesof the process.
The ruling resolves a dozen lawsuits in which the group WildEarth Guardians challenged the Department of Interior’s failure to more timely list species under the act. As part of the settlement, the group agreed not to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service over missed listing deadlines for the next six years.
The judge's ruling frees hundreds of species from "regulatory purgatory", said John Horning, Executive Director of WildEarth Guardians. "Our goal has been for a long time to see species move through the listing process from the starting line to the finish line, which is to a decision."
In May the agreement was put on hold by U.S. District Judge Emmett Sullivan, who ordered the parties to hash out a new agreement, this time to include another environmental organization -- the Center For Biological Diversity.
The agreement was hailed as a landmark of cooperation that would have moved 839 candidate species toward federal protection. That petition process can take decades, slowed both by the federal agency's admitted lack of staff and money to process applications and by the enormous backlog of lawsuits that accompany the applications.
The Center for Biological Diversity -- which is usually at the forefront of taking the government to court for failing to protect species -- opposed the agreement and claimed it was "too weak, too vague" and was ultimately not enforceable.