On July 27, 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“USFWS”) published a Federal Register notice of its final Methodology for Prioritizing Status Reviews and Accompanying 12-Month Findings on Petitions for Listing Species under the Endangered Species Act (“Methodology”).  The final Methodology clarifies several of the terms and processes identified in the draft Methodology.

The Methodology establishes five prioritization categories, or “bins,” to inform a multi-year National Listing Workplan that will cover proposed and final listing determinations, as well as proposed and final critical habitat designations.  Under the Methodology, USFWS will give the highest priority to species experiencing severe threat levels across a majority of their range, which result in severe population-level impacts.  However, where efforts to conserve species are organized, underway, and likely to address the threats to the species, USFWS will consider these actions as the fourth highest priority.  Actions on species for which there is limited information will be given the lowest priority.  The Methodology outlines exceptional circumstances that may warrant a change in the agency’s general order of reviewing listing petitions.

Under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”), any member of the public may petition USFWS to list, delist, or reclassify a species as an endangered or threatened species.  USFWS is required to, within 90 days of receiving a petition, make a preliminary determination regarding whether the petition presents substantial information that action may be warranted.  If it does, USFWS must thereafter determine whether the action is warranted, not warranted, or warranted but precluded, within 12 months after receiving the petition.  Due to limited resources and a substantial number of listing petitions filed since 2010, USFWS has been unable to meet the statutory deadlines and has, repeatedly, been dragged into court as a result.  The Methodology is an attempt to document USFWS’s reasoned and systematic approach to carrying out its mission and statutory duties.  USFWS states that the purpose of the Methodology is to increase the transparency of the agency’s decisionmaking for the benefit of all stakeholders.

According to the Federal Register notice, the Methodology is effective immediately.