July 26, 2023

Fish and Wildlife Service agrees to issue listing decisions for dozens of species

The Center for Biological Diversity and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reached an agreement that sets in motion a timetable for issuing decisions on protections for dozens of species, including one that resides in New Mexico.

This agreement comes following a lawsuit the Center for Biological Diversity brought against the federal agency regarding 31 species from the southeast and two species from the southwest, including the Pecos pupfish.

In the lawsuit, the Center for Biological Diversity argued that the Fish and Wildlife Service was violating requirements to issue listing decisions within two years of receiving a legal petition to list a plant or animal as threatened or endangered. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, species are waiting an average of nine to 12 years before such a decision is made.

The Pecos pupfish is an example of a species that has been waiting years for a final decision. Groups first sought protections for the fish in 2007, which they say is threatened by groundwater pumping in both Texas and New Mexico.

Under the agreement, the agency must release decisions on listing 24 species under the Endangered Species Act by the end of the year. The remaining decisions, including the protections for the Pecos pupfish, will come in 2024 and 2025.

“As the U.S. wildlife extinction crisis accelerates, the Endangered Species Act is the most effective tool we have to save irreplaceable plants and animals,” Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release. “It’s inexcusable how long it’s taken for these rare species to move toward protection. We could lose two out of every five wild species if we don’t act now, so we need urgency from the Fish and Wildlife Service, not delays.”

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the Endangered Species Act is 99 percent effective in preventing extinctions. But delaying the protections can have deadly consequences. Nearly 50 species have gone extinct while under consideration for protection under the Endangered Species Act, the group states. 

The 2007 petition was not the first time the Fish and Wildlife Service has considered listing the Pecos pupfish as threatened or endangered. The federal agency considered listing it as endangered in the 1990s, but withdrew that proposal in 2000.

When conservationists sought protection for the Pecos pupfish in 2007, they did so through a multi-species petition that asked the federal government to consider listing 475 species occurring in the southwest United States as either threatened or endangered.

While the Pecos pupfish was once the most abundant fish in the Pecos River, its range has significantly decreased. In addition to the groundwater pumping, the introduced sheepshead minnow has led to the decline in pupfish populations as the two fish will interbreed. This is particularly a problem in Texas. 

Other species included in the 2007 petition that are found in New Mexico include several invertebrates including dozens of species of snail. In terms of fish, the petition included the Arkansas River Speckled Chub and the White Sands Pupfish. Various species of plants found in New Mexico were also in the petition, including the Guadalupe pincushion cactus and the Bisti fleabane.

Like the Pecos pupfish, not all of these species have had a final decision rendered on listing. For example, the Fish and Wildlife Service still lists the White Sands Pupfish as being under review for protection.

But only the Pecos pupfish is included in the Center for Biological Diversity’s agreement with the Fish and Wildlife Service.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, more than 100 species “remain stuck in bureaucratic purgatory” waiting for a listing decision. Additionally, the Center for Biological Diversity says scientific organizations have identified thousands of at-risk species that the federal agency has not considered for protections.

These protections are not just important for preventing extinctions.

“The wellbeing of humans is directly dependent on the wellbeing of wildlife, large and small, so we need to prioritize enough funding to list and recover all imperiled species for their sake and for our own,” Curry said.