On September 24, 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) entered into a settlement agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity, requiring the Service to determine whether to list nine species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The agreement covers three freshwater species, the bridled darter (Percina kusha, formerly Percina sp. cf. macrocephala), Panama City crayfish (Procambarus econfinae), and Suwannee moccasinshell mussel (Medionidus walkeri), which are found in Georgia, Florida and Tennessee. Bicknell’s thrush (Catharus bicknelli), a New England songbird, and MacGillivray’s seaside sparrow (A. m. macgillivraii), with a range from northeastern Florida to North Carolina, are also covered by the agreement.

The remaining species include two lizards, the eastern hellbender salamander (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) and Florida Keys mole skink (Plestiodon egregius egregius), as well as the Sierra Nevada red fox (Vulpes vulpes necator) and boreal toad (Bufo boreas boreas). The agreement also requires the Service to designate critical habitat for the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta).

While deadlines for the determinations vary (e.g., determinations for the red fox and moccasinshell mussel are required by 2015, while determinations for the darter and crayfish are not required until 2017), all the species will receive expedited consideration under the ESA.

These types of settlement agreements have recently come under scrutiny. Specifically, Congress has introduced legislation intended to curtail these so-called “closed-door settlements” with environmental groups. For more details regarding these legislative efforts, please see our posts dated June 4, 2013 and March 29, 2013.