Agency agrees to reconsider species listings
By Christine Souza
In response to a petition filed jointly by the California Farm Bureau Federation and other organizations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said last week it will take a closer look at whether to "delist" or reclassify six protected species found mostly in California.
Based on recovery of the six species, Fish and Wildlife Service status reviews recommended a change in classification for the species. Because the agency has not yet acted on its own reviews, CFBF joined the Pacific Legal Foundation and the California and Oregon Cattlemen's Associations in filing the petition last December.
In the June 4 issue of the Federal Register, the Fish and Wildlife Service said it found that the petition "presents substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned actions may be warranted. Therefore, we are initiating status reviews … to determine if the respective actions of delisting and reclassifying are warranted."
The petition requested the Fish and Wildlife Service to act on its own recommendation to remove the Inyo California towhee, a songbird native to Inyo County, from its list of threatened species.
In addition, the petition requested that five species be "downlisted" from endangered to threatened:
- The arroyo toad, a small toad that has been found in coastal and inland counties in Central and Southern California;
- Indian Knob mountain balm, a plant found in San Luis Obispo County;
- Lane Mountain milk-vetch, a plant found in San Bernardino County;
- Modoc sucker, a fish found in Lassen and Modoc counties in California, and in Oregon;
- Santa Cruz cypress, a tree found in Santa Cruz County.
"Farm Bureau policy places the highest priority on recovery plans for listed species. All of these species have been recommended for reclassification by the Fish and Wildlife Service, but the agency has not initiated this process," CFBF General Counsel Nancy McDonough said. "For this reason, Pacific Legal Foundation is representing California Farm Bureau Federation and the California and Oregon Cattlemen's Associations on a petition to delist or downlist these species."
Following last December's filing of the petition to reclassify the species, McDonough said, the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to take action as required within 90 days, noting it would do so in 2013.
On March 30, Pacific Legal Foundation filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue if the deadlines for the service to make a final determination and status change are not met. In the meantime, the agency is required to make a final determination about whether it should reclassify the species within 12 months of receiving the petition.
Daniel Himebaugh, Pacific Legal Foundation staff attorney, said the action stems from a 2005 settlement agreement that PLF entered into, in which the agency agreed to undertake belated status reviews of nearly 100 protected species.
"The Endangered Species Act requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to complete a status review for every species that is listed as endangered or threatened, at least once every five years. We sued them because they hadn't been doing those status reviews," Himebaugh said. "The service was put on a schedule to get those done."
Some of the six species named in the petition occur only in limited areas, Himebaugh said, but the arroyo toad is far more widely distributed than any of the others, plus it has critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act, which adds another regulatory hurdle.
After the completion of a five-year review in August 2009, the Fish and Wildlife Service recommended that the arroyo toad be removed from the list of endangered species and downlisted to threatened status. This recommendation was based upon the improvement in the status of the arroyo toad and conservation management measures that have been implemented to control threats that had occurred since it was listed.
"It is important that when we make efforts to conserve and protect species so that they are no longer endangered or threatened, that the service then delist or downlist them appropriately," McDonough said. "When people spend the time, money and effort to identify and implement protective and beneficial measures to help species and increase their populations, then the species' status should be reviewed and properly classified in a timely manner."
(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at email@example.com.)
Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.