Is FWS Asked to List Too Many Species?

The Fish and Wildlife Service claims it is overwhelmed by requests to list additional species as “endangered” or “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. The NYT reports:

The federal Fish and Wildlife Service is in emergency triage mode as it struggles with an avalanche of petitions and lawsuits over the endangered species list, the chief tool for protecting plants and animals facing extinction in the United States. Over the last four years, a few environmental groups have requested that more than 1,230 species be listed, compared with the previous 12 years in which annual requests averaged only 20 species.

Some environmental groups argue that vastly expanded listings are needed as evidence mounts that the world is entering an era of mass extinctions related to destruction of habitat, climate and other changes. Such threats require a focus on entire ecosystems, they say, rather than individual species.

Fish and Wildlife Service officials say the barrage has paralyzed the listing process. Last month, the agency asked Congress to intervene and impose a limit on the number of species it must consider for protection, setting the stage for a showdown.

As Greenwire reported previously, the Administration would like Congressional appropriators to cap the amount of money the FWS can spend on listing new species each year.

Limiting what FWS spends on new listings could free up resources to devote toward conservation, but it’s at most a band-aid on a larger problem. As I discuss in my brief contribution to an NYT “Room for Debate” exchange on the Endangered Species Act, the law itself has failings that limit its effectiveness as a conservation tool. It may be wasteful for the agency to devote an ever-larger share of its budget to listing new species, but the larger question is whether the Act itself encourages effective conservation — and there are reasons to doubt it does, as I explain in this essay which will be a chapter in a forthcoming book on ESA reform.