In a new deal with environmentalists, the Obama administration has agreed to work through a backlog list of species that require additional study to determine if they should be given protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Some of these species were proposed for protection in 1973 when the Act was passed. Nearly 40 years later, the fate of some species is still not determined.
The setback is because the Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency responsible to evaluate species for protection, is flooded with lawsuits by groups hoping to force designation of certain species. The resources required to evaluate the status of a species, however, are limited.
In recent years, the lawsuits have been setting the agenda. According to the Deputy Interior Secretary, David Hayes, "[p]riorities are being set by plaintiffs and courts instead of by wildlife professionals, by litigation instead of science."
In order for the Obama deal to be successful, all parties proposing species for listing under the Act have to be on board – an unlikely scenario. In fact, it appears that many groups are more interested in the number of species being listed than their need for listing. An administration’s effectiveness of species protection is often based on the annual average number of species protected per year. Until now, Obama has been labeled ‘lame’ with only 30 species per year compared to Clinton’s 65. This target has nothing to do with science or the number of species at risk. The target has everything to do with politics and the power of influence.