USFWS announces final plan for prioritizing ESA reviews

By Jennifer Becar

The red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis) is listed under the Endangered Species Act. ©USFWS

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced on July 26 their final methodology for changing the status review process for species listed on the Endangered Species Act. This methodology, first drafted in January, allows the USFWS to more strategically review petitions by prioritizing those for species most at risk of extinction.

USFWS made these revisions after recognizing that the length of time it takes to complete a status review, coupled with the sheer number of reviews pending completion, may mean that species of immediate conservation concern are not addressed in time to recover their populations. This new format will address such species first, before considering species that face a less immediate risk of extinction. This prioritization will be achieved by placing status reviews under one of five “bins” that categorize the urgency and priority of the review. These bins are organized based on a variety of factors, such as threats to the species, the amount of data available about a listing, and conservation measures already being taken.

These changes to the status review process have been met with varied responses from those interested in wildlife conservation. In general, state wildlife agencies have been in support of the changes, stating that this prioritization process will make state-level conservation efforts more focused and efficient. However, others fear that the new methodology will prevent less urgent species from getting the federal protection they need.

The new methodology for pending status reviews will not change the current process for changing the status of a listed species, or the process for removing a species from the Endangered Species Act. By implementing these changes, USFWS aims to more effectively address conservation concerns in the United States.

Becar_Headshot Jennifer Becar is a policy intern at The Wildlife Society as part of the Government Affairs & Partnership program.

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