FWS Proposes New Methods for Prioritizing Listing Petitions

By Lauren McDonald

Black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes), a North American endangered species.
©J. Michael Lockhart/USFWS Mountain-Prairie, licensed by cc 2.0

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed a new method to streamline the decision-making process of plants and animals petitioned for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

Currently, there are over 500 species in a growing backlog of petitions that have been filed by the public. The large number of petitions, coupled with a required 12 month analysis period, has lead the FWS to seek alternative methods for prioritizing species’ reviews with the creation of five different “priority bins.”

According to the proposed methodology, the highest priority for status review will be awarded to species whose numbers are under severe threat across the majority of their range. These species are in need of immediate listing in order to prevent extinction. Secondary priority will be given to petitions for species on which research has already been conducted that would support a listing decision.

Subsequent priority bins are determined by the amount of scientific data available and the existence of ongoing conservation efforts that would reduce threats to the species. The least amount of priority is given to status reviews of species that have no pre-existing scientific data on their population status or trends which would aid in the review process.

The document also provides other methods for expediting the status review process. This includes “batching” species of different levels of concern based on similarities between geographic location, taxon, or threats. This would allow species petitions of lesser priority to be reviewed at the same time as a species’ petition of higher priority if they are similar in these respects.

The Wildlife Society supports collaboration between ESA decision-makers and wildlife professionals. This notice will be open for public comment until Feb. 16, 2016. Interested parties are encouraged to submit comment on whether or not this draft clearly defines the conditions for each priority bin and whether other factors should be considered and incorporated in this methodology.

For more information see TWS’ position statement on The Endangered Species Act and Threatened and Endangered Species in the U.S.

Lauren McDonald is a policy intern at The Wildlife Society as part of the Government Affairs & Partnership program.

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