Agency says review process often driven by litigation
By MATEUSZ PERKOWSKI
A legal complaint filed by a several Washington agriculture groups has prompted the federal government to review the endangered and threatened status of several species in the West.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it would undertake a status review of the the northern spotted owl, the Oregon silverspot butterfly, the showy stickseed and the Wenatchee Mountains checkermallow.
Status reviews are supposed to be conducted very five years to gauge each listed species' need for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.
The Washington Farm Bureau, the Washington Cattlemen's Association and the Washington Farm Forestry Association identified several species for which status reviews hadn't been timely completed.
On Nov. 23, the groups filed a legal complaint against the Fish and Wildlife Service for violating the ESA, seeking a federal court order to compel the agency to conduct the status reviews.
The following day, Fish and Wildlife announced in the Federal Register that it was undertaking the review process for these and other threatened and endangered species.
The agency had been notified in September that the groups planned to sue over the status reviews, said Daniel Himebaugh, an attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation who represents the plaintiffs.
"So often we see the species go on the list, but they don't tend to go off," said Himebaugh. "A listing can have a very adverse effect on private property. We want to make sure the science actually justifies it."
The agency was aware of the need to review these species, but the litigation notice served as an incentive and reminder, said Joan Jewett, spokesperson for the agency. "It was time to get moving on this."
About 1,000 species are currently listed as endangered or threatened, she said. Given the agency's limited resources, the review process often is driven by litigation.
"You can imagine there is always quite a workload," Jewett said.
Only one of the species named in the lawsuit -- the gray wolf -- was not included in the agency's list of species to undergo a status review.
The plaintiffs may modify their complaint and continue litigating specifically over the gray wolf's status review, but they haven't yet made that decision, said Himebaugh.
A status review of the gray wolf is under consideration by the service, which is trying to find the best course of action for regulating the species, said agency spokesperson Diane Katzenberger.
The gray wolf's status is already the subject of litigation.
In August, a federal judge reversed the agency's 2008 decision to remove the northern Rocky Mountains distinct population segment of the wolf from the list of endangered and threatened species.
Legal challenges to that opinion are currently pending before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In light of the current controversy surrounding the wolf's status, the service may have been wary of initiating the review, said Jack Field, executive vice president of the Washington Cattlemen's Association.
"Probably a lot more politics play into the wolf issue than the other species," he said.