Federal listing process too slow for some rare WV species
A new lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity alleges that the federal government is taking far too long to decide whether or not species are Endangered and identify critical habitat. Listing decisions are supposed to be a 2 to 3 year process, but in reality the process takes an average of 12 years. The lawsuit cites 24 species that were supposed to get a ruling by the end of 2018 and never received one, including five species found in West Virginia. The total backlog of species awaiting a decision is over 500, and at least 47 species have gone extinct waiting for protection.
How quickly the Fish and Wildlife Service manages to make listing decisions can vary a lot between administrations. For instance, under the Clinton administration an average of 65 species a year were listed. Under the George W. Bush administration, it took 8 years to get through the same number of listings. The Trump administration is off to a pretty slow start, with only 16 species listed so far. At the same time the listing decision is issued, the Fish and Wildlife Service is supposed to delineate critical habitat for the species, since defining critical habitat is a prerequisite for getting any sort of effective plan together to protect species. Some of the species in the lawsuit never received any sort of decision, while a few got a preliminary listing but never had critical habitat designated. In both cases, the species are being left unprotected until the necessary work is done.
The West Virginia species cited in the lawsuit include the Elk River Crayfish, several species of mussels, and the yellow-banded bumblebee. Elsewhere in the country, rare species of warblers, snakes, lizards, orchids, ferns and more are awaiting decisions. Studies have found that vertebrate species are listed more quickly than invertebrates or plants, suggesting that being visible and recognizable might be an advantage for species. However, the less cute species still play important ecological roles. Sensitive aquatic species like mussels and crayfish are good indicators of water quality, and protecting those species could also create healthier streams.
Pictured above: Elk River crayfish and yellow banded bumblebee
You can read the Gazette-Mail’s coverage of the lawsuit here.