By Marjorie Haun | Watchdog Arena
Although the Obama Administration has delisted as many species as all administrations combined since the Endangered Species Act was passed–a total of twelve– the numbers of species being added to the list is staggering. Since 2007, 299 new species have been listed as “endangered,” and there are currently 36 species waiting in the wings.
According to a report by Corbin Hiar, a reporter for Environment and Energy Publishing, species taken off the “endangered” list by the Obama Administration are poised to surpass the number of species delisted in the forty years since the ESA was passed if deadlines are met. According to the report, another 18 species, including birds, mammals, plants, reptiles, and fish, have been removed from the list since 2009.
Given the scope and impact of the ESA, which now empowers the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to address all threatened or endangered species internationally through the “Branch of Foreign Species,” Obama’s record is not necessarily a cause for celebration.
Greg Walcher, former Secretary of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources, in a 2014 Watchdog Wire report, claimed that of the thousands of species listed as endangered by USFW, only around one percent have been delisted, and ten of those were due to extinction.
Delisting endangered species is also often subjective. USFW, tasked with assessing and listing potentially threatened and endangered species, often adds species to the list with no clear criteria for recovery. Walcher exposed this significant weakness in the ESA listing process, indicating that recovery plans and criteria for what constitutes species recovery are not required for the process by which species receive their “endangered” designation.
The identification of threatened or endangered species by USFW is more than a race to restore populations of specific animals. The economic and political stakes are incredibly high, especially in those states where the protection of “endangered” species means closing off millions of acres of land to human development.
The Yellow-billed Cuckoo is one such species. With habitat covering vast regions of the western states, preservation of its habitat could potentially effect farming, ranching, mineral exploration and extraction, industrial and residential development, and access to native water resources for millions of people.
Colorado’s species of note is the Gunnison Sage Grouse, a near-identical relative of the Greater Sage Grouse, which lives in many Western Slope counties where oil and gas development, mining, and ranching are key economic drivers. Elected officials at all levels of government, including Gov. John Hickenlooper, have united to dissuade USFW from its plan to move the Sage Grouse, which is currently designated as “threatened,” into the endangered category.
In a lawsuit filed against USFW, its flawed listing processes and lack of transparency were documented. But potentially massive economic repercussions were also pointed out. According to a March 18, 2015 Washington Times article about the lawsuit:
The Greater sage-grouse’s habitat is enormous, spanning 165 million acres in 11 Western states, 64 percent of which sits on federal land.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has until Sept. 30 to decide whether to list the Greater sage-grouse as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act, a move with potentially devastating economic consequences for the Western United States.
The Endangered Species Act was first passed in 1973, largely in response to alarming declines in the populations of several apex predators, including the Southern Bald Eagle and Polar Bear, as well as some iconic critters such as the Whooping Crane and Bighorn Sheep. In 1978, the ESA was amended to include plants, and marine and terrestrial invertebrates.
Due to intensive conservation efforts on the part of federal agencies, state and local governments, and non-profits, a few species have recovered sufficiently to be relisted as “threatened” or “recovering.” Between the time of the enactment of the ESA and 2007, 18 species–including plants, invertebrates, birds, reptiles, and mammals from the United States and other countries–were taken off the “endangered” listing because their numbers were on the rebound.
The recovery of a species struggling on the cusp of extinction is undoubtedly a cause for celebration, and most Americans support the goals of the ESA. But as hundreds of new species are listed, many of which are virtually unknown or may be dubious subspecies of a thriving species, the present goals of USFW in its application of the ESA are being called into question with its potential to do ravage economies.
This article was written by a contributor of Watchdog Arena, Franklin Center’s network of writers, bloggers, and citizen journalists.