Dr. Rob Dillon, Coordinator

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Megapetitions II: Armistice Day?

Faithful readers should remember the yarn we spun back on 14July09 entitled, “Megapetitions of the Old West” (1). Who could forget riding sidekick with gunslingers from the Center for Biological Diversity through the badlands of endangered species politics, filing petitions to list hundreds of species in a single crank of our solar-powered fax machines, firing off lawsuits on the 366th day as 12-month deadlines came and went?

In our last episode, the CBD posse had filed a (2008) petition nominating “32 mollusk species from freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems of the northwestern United States” and a (2009) petition to list “42 species of Great Basin Springsnails” under the provisions of the endangered species act. So now almost two years later, how has that megapetitiony, lawsuity thing been working out?

Reference to the ecos.fws.gov website reveals that none of the 74 mollusk species petitioned by the CBD in 2008 or 2009 has advanced beyond “under review – no findings.” Only two species of freshwater snails have in fact been federally listed since 2005 – the two Alabama pleurocerids we featured in late 2009 (2). Indeed, no species of freshwater gastropod has been added to the formal list of candidates maintained by the US Fish and Wildlife Service since 2002 (3).

Undeterred, on April 20, 2010, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a single, massive, 1145 page “Petition To List 404 Aquatic, Riparian And Wetland Species From The Southeastern United States As Threatened Or Endangered Under The Endangered Species Act” (4). This stupendous ark-full of creatures great and small included 4 mammals, 3 birds, 28 herps, 48 fish, 55 insects, 92 crustaceans, 48 mussels and 44 freshwater gastropods from a twelve-state region. Among the gastropods, I have tallied 27 pleurocerids, 15 hydrobiids, 1 ancylid and 1 planorbid (5).

And exactly 12 months and one day later, on April 21, 2011, the CBD filed a notice of intent to sue the US Fish and Wildlife Service to have determinations made for these 404 species. “The Obama administration seems intent only on delay and inaction,” said Sheriff Noah Greenwald. “It’s dangerous foot-dragging — yet another result of an endangered species program that’s been broken for more than a decade and badly needs reform.”

Now pardners, I know just enough about the world of politics and public policy to know how little I know about politics and public policy. And I know even less about the New York Times. But last week a colleague sent me a link to a NYT article entitled, “U.S. Reaches a Settlement on Decisions about Endangered Species,” the timing of which does not seem to be a coincidence (6).

There is apparently at least one other organization very similar to the CBD in both its cause and its approach, styling itself “WildEarth Guardians.” The WEG is also a primarily western outfit focusing on endangered species protection, and in fact rode with the CBD posse in the successful campaign to list Pyrgulopsis roswellensis, Juternia kosteri and Assiminea pecos back in 2005.

So quoting now from the FWS press release (7), last week WildEarth Guardians signed an agreement formalizing a “listing work plan that will enable the agency to systematically, over a period of six years, review and address the needs of more than 250 species listed on the 2010 Candidate Notice of Review.” That would be good news for the 11 freshwater gastropods (entirely western hydrobiids) currently on that formal list of candidates (3).

But it does send 1,230 species more recently petitioned by organizations such as the Center for Biological Diversity to the back of the line. And the CBD was not pleased. According to the New York Times, similar negotiations between the FWS and the CBD “reached an impasse” sometime in April. Sheriff Greenwald was quoted as opining that the FWS failure to keep pace with petition candidates for the endangered species list was more of a reflection of a lack of political will than distractions posed by excess litigation.

Perhaps this is a variant of the old “good cop / bad cop” strategy that could more descriptively be termed, “crazy cop / cop who is merely unreasonable.” Does the spectacle of a genuinely insane Center for Biological Diversity - firing sixshooters into the air like Yosemite Sam - make negotiation with an organization that is simply shrill, such as WildEarth Gardians, politically possible? Even if that has not been the strategy here, it seems to have worked.


(1) Megapetitions of the Old West [14July09]

(2) We featured the listing of Leptoxis foremani and Pleurocera foremani in a series of four posts on the Mobile Basin: Two pleurocerids proposed for listing [14Aug09], Leptoxis lessons [15Sept09], Pleurocera puzzles [12Oct09], Goniobasis WTFs [13Nov09]

(3) The FWS reviews its formal list of candidate species annually. A PDF of the most recent (10Nov10) "Candidate Notice of Review" can be downloaded here [PDF]. See pp 69255-58 for the freshwater snails.

(4) Here's the page at The Center for Biological Diversity:
The Southeast Freshwater Extinction Crisis
There are links from that page to an interactive map and an "action timeline" of lawsuity stuff, as well as to the entire 1,145 page petition itself.

(5) If you can believe it, the CBD petition itself includes no tabulations of any sort for the 404 species proposed. The 1,100-page list is organized alphabetically by genus. I made my tally of the 44 freshwater gastropods covered by visiting the 12 state pages separately, using the interactive map. Here's a PDF table I created [CBD-southeast-endangered.pdf] freshly updated as of 7Oct11. Only 8 states are represented - no freshwater gastropods listed from VA, WV, SC, or LA.

(6) U.S. Reaches a Settlement on Decisions about Endangered Species [NYT 10May11]

(7) Fish and Wildlife Service Announces Work Plan to Restore Biological Priorities and Certainty to Endangered Species Listing Process [FWS 10May11]

1 comment:

  1. The Center has since reached an agreement with FWS. The 42 Great Basin species, 32 PNW species, and 404 Southeast species will all get initial petition findings in 2011. See: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/biodiversity/species_agreement/index.html