NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Environmentalists' Lawsuits May Endanger Species

March 13, 2001

Last November, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced a moratorium on adding new species to its threatened or endangered species lists, saying it was too busy dealing with lawsuits filed by environmental groups over already-listed species to protect any new ones.

  • The moratorium has created a crisis for groups interested in the preservation of 39 species that were about to be listed, as well as 236 species that were candidates for federal protection.
  • The Clinton administration reserved only $6.3 million of the $1.3 billion Fish and Wildlife budget for "listing activities," almost all of which is spent on litigation filed by green groups trying to get the agency to designate critical habitats for listed species, which it almost never does in a timely fashion -- so the lawsuits are almost always successful.

The 1973 Endangered Species Act banned all "takings" of endangered species -- and it has been interpreted to protect their natural habitats as well. It authorized the service to designate swaths of "critical habitat" for each species where potentially harmful activities could be forbidden.

But are the lawsuits helping protect rare flora and fauna?

  • Fish and Wildlife officials argue that designating critical habitat is a waste of scarce resources, with little conservation value.
  • Some environmentalists agree that other provisions -- especially the ban on takings -- provide strong enough protection.
  • Only 12 species have come off the endangered list because of recovery, seven have come off the list because of extinction, and according to Fish and Wildlife only half of the listed species are stable or improving.

"Unfortunately, the movement is expending a lot of resources on these fights, for very little conservation payoff," said Environmental Defense senior ecologist David S. Wilcove.

Source: Michael Grunwald, "Endangered List Faces New Peril," Washington Post, March 12, 2001.


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