America’s Top 40
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) keeps a list of species called its “Top 40,” whichare the most imperiled candidates for Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing in the U.S.Collectively, they represent the worst-off plants and animals in the nation, according to theService. Yet, most of these species have languished on the candidate list for over a decade.Until they are listed under the ESA, they remain unprotected from the various threats theyface.The Obama administration listed the plant
, under the ESA on March 17,2009,
thus ending a ten-month nationwide hiatus in the ESA listing program.
This Molokaiplant was badly in need of protection. However, its listing is a drop in the bucket whenconsidering the extinction crisis unfolding nationwide. Some 323 species await listing ascandidate or proposed species under the ESA.
Thousands more plants and animals are introuble but not yet even in the queue for protection.
The current administration inherited a mess at the Interior Department, and the Service’s ESAlisting program is among its biggest messes.
The nation needs an active endangered specieslisting program, where groups of species are listed at once, and the annual listing rateincreases by an order of magnitude. The administration should begin by promptly finalizing alisting proposal for 48 Kauai species that were proposed for listing in October 2008.
But it should not stop there. While 12 of the Kauai species were among the nation’s Top 40,the majority of the Top 40 have not even been proposed for listing. Some of the species that are not yet even proposed for listing are verging on extinction. For instance, the Langford’stree snail (
) was last seen in 1992 and has sat on the candidate list for 15years, edging no closer to federal protection. The Mariana wandering butterfly (
) was last seen in 1995, and its prospects are bleak: only seven males have beenobserved in the recent past. The Warton’s cave spider (
) was last seen in2001. Since then, the lock on the gate to the only cave it inhabits has rusted shut. TheObama administration needs to unlock the gates on the legal ark the ESA provides, not only
See 74 Fed. Reg. 11319-11327 (March 17, 2009).
This report explores the history of final listing actions in the endangered species listing program in recent years, indetail, in a subsequent section. While the Service issued a February 2009 listing rule concerning the flatwoodssalamander, that listing did not extend ESA protections to previously unprotected organisms.
See http://www.fws.gov/endangered/wildlife.html, visited April 11, 2009.
Stein, B.A., L.S., Kutner, and J.S. Adams. 2000. Eds.
Precious Heritage: The Status of Biodiversity in the UnitedStates.
Oxford University Press; and WildEarth Guardians. 2007. Petition to list 206 Rocky Mountain speciesunder the Endangered Species Act. Submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in July 2007.
Two Interior Inspector General’s reports demonstrate the politicized and unscientific way in which endangereddecisions were made under the George W. Bush administration. See Interior Inspector General reports datedMarch 23, 2007 and December 15, 2008. A May 21, 2008 oversight hearing by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources also explored the problem of politicized endangered speciesdecision-making. This hearing was entitled “The Danger of Deception: Do Endangered Species Have a Chance?”No. 110-72. An earlier oversight hearing by the same committee on the same issue was held on May 9, 2007:“Endangered Species Act Implementation: Science or Politics?” No. 110-24. Despite this pressure on the Service’slisting program, the program has nearly ground to a halt.
See 73 Fed. Reg. 62592-62640 (October 21, 2008).