Endangered Species Act settlement deal could break listing logjam

Cache la Poudre River.

A federal judge late last week signed off on a deal struck between the WildEarth Guardians environmental group and the U.S. Department of the Interior that would compel the federal government to reach final Endangered Species Act listing decisions on 253 species in the next five years.

Some of those species up for consideration are found in decreasing numbers in Colorado, where WildEarth Guardians sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) over its failure to consider in a timely manner the group’s petition to list the Arapahoe snowfly.

Arapahoe snowfly.
Found only in the Cache la Poudre River drainage in northern Colorado, the fly is seen as an indicator species for the overall health of the river ecosystem as it increasingly succumbs to pressures from agricultural, recreational and industrial demands.

WildEarth had a total of 12 lawsuits pending, and the settlement deal struck last week resolves those suits and also schedules findings on petitions to list more than 600 additional species. WildEarth’s lawsuits will be dismissed, and the group has agreed not to sue over missed listing deadlines for the next six years.

“We and the government agree that it is long past time to get the endangered species listing program back on track,”, WildEarth Guardians Executive Director John Horning said in a release. “This is an important step toward protecting our rich biodiversity and stemming the extinction crisis in our country.”

Environmental groups hope this settlement fixes the “warranted but not listed” loophole that allows the federal government to keep species off the list for decades, meaning they don’t then receive the full protection of the law in the face of increasing development.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently signaled a shift in policy away from merely maintaining habitat for endangered species to actually taking steps to increase the amount of habitat.

However, environmental litigation itself would be somewhat of an endangered species under a bill floated by Republican Wyoming lawmakers Cynthia Lummis and John Barrasso called the Government Litigation Savings Act.

H.R. 1996, co-sponsored by Republican Colorado Reps. Mike Coffman, Doug Lamborn and Scott Tipton would place severe limitations on the Equal Access to Justice Act, which former President Ronald Reagan signed into law in the 1980s. Environmental groups have lined up to defeat the bill.