Hundreds of species up for new protections
BILLINGS, Mont. - The Obama administration is taking steps to extend new federal protections to a list of imperiled animals and plants that reads like a manifest for Noah’s ark - from the melodic golden-winged warbler and slow-moving gopher tortoise to the slimy American eel and tiny Texas kangaroo rat.
Compelled by a pair of recent legal settlements, the effort in part targets species that have been mired in bureaucratic limbo even as they inch toward potential extinction. With a deadline today to act on more than 700 pending cases, the US Fish and Wildlife Service already has issued decisions advancing more than 500 species toward potential new protections under the Endangered Species Act.
Observers said the agency’s actions mark a breakthrough for a program long criticized by conservatives and liberals alike as cumbersome and slow. But most of the decisions made under the current settlements are preliminary, and a key Republican congressman has vowed to continue his efforts to cut the program’s funding.
The flurry of recent action could help revive President Obama’s standing among wildlife advocates upset over the administration’s support for taking gray wolves off the endangered list in the Northern Rockies and Upper Great Lakes, among other issues.
But it also could set the stage for a new round of disputes pitting conservation against economic development.
That is likely to fuel a rising Republican backlash in Congress against the 37-year-old endangered species program. Earlier this year, citing restrictions against development and other activities, lawmakers unsuccessfully sought to strip the federal budget of money to list new species as threatened or endangered.
The administration is seeking $25 million for the listing program in 2012, an 11 percent increase.
Representative Mike Simpson, who chairs the appropriations subcommittee overseeing the program, plans to continue seeking to cut that money from the budget, his office said.