Endangered Species Act reviewed at resource excellence convention in LaramieWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Laramie – “Anyone can petition any organism for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) at any time, for any reason,” remarked Gary Beauvais of the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database.
Beauvais spoke in Laramie at the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts, Wyoming Section of the Society for Range Management and Wyoming Weed and Pest Council “Partners in Resource Excellence” convention, held Nov. 2-5.
“A potential organism could be the full species, a subspecies or it could be what is known as a distinct population segment. We are seeing trends toward petitions targeting distinct populations and subspecies more than for full species,” he explained.
Once the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) receives a listing petition, they have a 90-day period to decide if there is enough evidence of decline and threat to the targeted organism to warrant further investigation. If there is not, the petition is set aside. If there is enough evidence, the next step is a 12-month investigation.
During the 12-month investigation, FWS must determine if the targeted organism is in significant danger of extinction, in which case it is classified as endangered, or if it is in significant danger of becoming endangered, in which case it is classified as threatened.
“At the end of that process, if there is not enough evidence, the petition is not considered any further and that’s what’s known as a ‘not-warranted’ decision,” noted Beauvais.
If the species is considered to be warranted for listing, FWS has a number of options, including listing the species immediately under the ESA or placing the species on a waiting list under a candidate status.
“This is where we were for a long time with the sage grouse. It was warranted for listing under the ESA but the actual listing, paperwork and documentation was precluded by higher priority tasks that the FWS had,” Beauvais said.
If a species is listed under the ESA, FWS is required to formulate a recovery plan and designate critical habitat for the species. The recovery plan defines adequate population levels and distribution for the listed organism that are required for it to be delisted.
“The listed species are reviewed periodically to evaluate whether those listed as endangered can be moved to threatened or if those listed as threatened can be delisted,” he continued.
Litigation is common surrounding ESA decisions, and the fates of many species are often in court for long periods of time.
“Once species are listed, people sue to delist them, and once they are delisted, people sue to relist them. A lot of these high profile species tend to be stuck in this litigation limbo for a while, with court orders variously remanding decisions to the Service, reversing decisions or putting a stay on listings. That can really put a lot of uncertainty on the listing situation,” remarked Beauvais.
Currently, there are 14 taxa that occur regularly in Wyoming listed under the ESA, including four listed plants and two candidate plants. There are also more listed taxa that occur in the state occasionally.
“These species are not thought to be residents, but when they do occur, there is an impact from the ESA. These would be species like the whooping crane and the Dakota skipper butterfly,” Beauvais explained.
Several other species in Wyoming are also currently under petition for the ESA, meaning that they are under consideration for a listing.
“Bison and feral horses are perennially under a listing decision. They have been petitioned many times and denied listing many times,” he noted.
The other species under consideration include the white-tailed prairie dog, a bat known as the little brown myotis, the western toad – formerly known as the boreal toad, a subspecies of the spotted skunk, a distinct population segment of the black-backed woodpecker, the monarch butterfly and two types of bumblebee.
“I think it’s important to realize there have been at least 50 Wyoming organisms that have been petitioned for listing and denied listing by FWS over the last couple of decades,” Beauvais added.
Three species in Wyoming have also been delisted, including the bald eagle, peregrine falcon and the pond snail.
“Trains that don’t wreck don’t make the news. It’s tempting to look at all of the listed species and all of the species coming up and think there is a huge problem, that the ESA doesn’t work or it needs to be changed. In fact, it does work in a lot of cases,” he said. “We have to consider those 50 taxa not listed as successes as well.”