Turf War or Legitimate Concern ?
Earlier, we took a look at a recent settlement struck between the Interior Department and WildEarth Guardians that seeks to clear the logjam with species listings under the Endangered Species Act.
The settlement would ask the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make up or down determinations on a host of species, either granting actual protections for warranted species and affording critical habitat to those that warrant protections or determining that they do not warrant protection.
At first glance, the settlement seems to have the potential to do a lot of good – assuming (big) that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does the right thing. However, groups like the Center for Biological Diversity objected, arguing that the agreement was too weak, too vague and ultimately unenforceable. The group also objected to the fact that the would-be settling parties went behind CBD’s back, despite its previous involvement in negotiations, pushing the group out of involvement and making unwise concessions despite CBD’s effort and strong legal interest on a vast majority of the species involved.
Today, the Court agreed with CBD’s challenge of the settlement arguing that the way that WildEarth Guardians and the Interior Department went about its settlement was inappropriate, and ordered all parties back into negotiations:
Judge Halts Settlement Over Hundreds of Endangered Species, Orders Parties Back to Negotiations – Center for Biological Diversity Press Release 5/17/2011
WASHINGTON— In response to opposition by the Center for Biological Diversity, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan today stayed approval of a controversial settlement agreement between WildEarth Guardians and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service until June 20 and ordered all parties, including the Center, back into mediation.
WildEarth Guardians reached a settlement with the agency last week to potentially move 839 imperiled species toward federal protection, including final protection decisions for 251 species that have been stuck on the “candidate” list, many for decades; but the Center objected that the agreement was too weak, too vague and ultimately unenforceable. The Center also objected to the fact that 87 percent of Endangered Species Act petitions affected by the agreement were petitioned or litigated by the Center and thus needed to be resolved with the Center’s approval.
“Today’s ruling gives us an opportunity to fix this deeply flawed agreement,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “These plants and animals need a strong, binding agreement that guarantees their protection.”
The Center was particularly concerned about terms in the agreement that would allow the Fish and Wildlife Service to unilaterally withdraw its commitment to list species, exclude a number of critically imperiled species, including the Pacific walrus and American wolverine, and limit protection of other imperiled species in the future.
“Protection of all the candidate species is long overdue,” said Greenwald. “The Fish and Wildlife Service can save these species — and respond to citizen petitions that call for increased attention to severely endangered plants and animals — by improving efficiency and reducing bureaucratic red tape.”