On May 17, 2011, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia stayed its approval of a proposed settlement agreement (Agreement) aimed at expediting findings related to petitions to list 251 species. The Center for Biological Diversity (Center) opposed approval of the Agreement after being left out of the negotiation process.

As we previously reported, plaintiff WildEarth Guardians (Guardians) entered into the Agreement with the Secretary of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), under which the Service agreed to a six-year work plan to address 251 species listed as candidate species on the 2010 Candidate Notice of Review (pdf) in the Federal Register.  In return, Guardians agreed not to bring further litigation to enforce statutory deadlines under the Service’s Listing Program. Guardians also agreed to limit the amount of petitions it submits each fiscal year for the duration of the Agreement.

The Center expressed frustration that it only learned of the negotiations for the first time upon the parties’ filing of their joint motion for approval of the Agreement. The Center argues that the obligations imposed on the Service are unenforceable, and it characterizes the Agreement as illusory. The Center also claims that the Agreement is contrary to public policy because: (1) it undermines other purposes of the Listing Program; and (2) its overall effect would be to stymie petitions and lawsuits to enforce the ESA’s statutory deadlines, in contravention of the ESA, which expressly provides citizens with the right to petition for species listings and to seek the Service’s action on such petitions within the ESA’s statutory deadlines.

The court has scheduled a Status Conference for June 20, 2011, at which time it will review the progress made towards crafting a new agreement, as well as address the need to continue the litigation.