On July 12, 2011, the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announced that is strengthening a work plan to address a backlog in making listing determinations regarding numerous candidate species.  The work plan is part of a settlement agreement (Agreement) with WildEarth Guardians (WildEarth) and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), the two plaintiff groups that most frequently file suit on endangered species issues.  The Agreement builds on a multi-year work plan that the Service had previously filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in May.

The Service has been subject to a barrage of litigation regarding the listing of species.  Petitions to list more than 1,000 species have been filed since 2007, and this has created an enormous backlog for species awaiting listing determinations.  Dan Ashe, Director of the Service, stated, "This work plan will allow the Service to more effectively focus our efforts on providing the benefits of the ESA to those imperiled species most in need of protection." 

As we previously reported, the Service and WildEarth had entered into an settlement agreement in May 2011 (May Agreement) 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, WildEarth agreed not to bring further litigation to enforce statutory deadlines under the Service’s Listing Program.  WildEarth also agreed to limit the amount of petitions it submits each fiscal year for the duration of the May Agreement.  The court stayed its approval of the proposed May Agreement when CBD opposed approval after being left out of the negotiation process.  CBD had filed many of the original lawsuits for species covered by the May Agreement.

The new work plan modifies some of the deadlines imposed by the May Agreement with WildEarth.  It sets deadlines for 40 species, while incorporating the framework set in the May Agreement for how the Service will address decisions related to hundreds of other species.