Imperiled species deal faces court challenge

AP News
Posted: May 16, 2011 3:02 PM
Imperiled species deal faces court challenge

An environmental group asked a federal judge on Monday to delay action on a proposed legal settlement that would require the government to consider new protections for hundreds of imperiled animals and plants.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed court documents in Washington, D.C., seeking to put the settlement agreement on hold. The Tucson, Ariz., group said the deal was hatched in secret and suffers from serious flaws.

Announced last week, the agreement between the Obama administration and Denver-based WildEarth Guardians received strong praise from many conservation groups.

It would address a backlog of 251 imperiled species currently listed as "candidates" for protections that the government lacks the resources to provide. Those include widely recognized species such as the greater sage grouse and Canada lynx and dozens of lesser known plants and animals.

But the Center for Biological Diversity criticized the deal for leaving out some species that could be hurt by climate change, including the Pacific walrus and wolverine. The group also argues that the deal is not enforceable.

The center is not a direct party to the 12 cases covered by the settlement, but is a plaintiff in a related case. That gives it potential legal leverage to influence enactment of the deal.

"We basically want the court to hold off on approving the settlement agreement until we've had a chance to explain our concerns and negotiate with the government further," said Noah Greenwald, endangered species program coordinator for the center.

Court approval of the settlement agreement is pending. A hearing in the case is scheduled for Tuesday in Washington.

Attorneys for the government and WildEarth Guardians filed documents Monday arguing that the Center for Biological Diversity should not be allowed to interfere with the proposed settlement at this point.

Approval of the deal would speed up decisions on imperiled species that in some cases have languished for more than 30 years, said Nicole Rosmarino with WildEarth Guardians.

Under the agreement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also would resolve petitions seeking protections on approximately 600 additional species.

"The most important issue is whether the status quo is serving (imperiled species) better than our agreement with the Interior Department. I think any reasonable person would say no," Rosmarino said. "Clearly we need to get the ball rolling and address the plight faced by these endangered animals and plants."