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Climate change is reducing sea ice in the Arctic, where the Pacific walrus makes its home. (Rodney Ungwiluk / Flickr / Getty Images)

Endangered or Not?

Hundreds of species may soon be added to the endangered species list

By Jennifer Marino Walters | March 18 , 2013
<p>The American wolverine is one of 66 candidates for endangered species protection. (Daniel J. Cox / Oxford Scientific / Getty Images)</p>

The American wolverine is one of 66 candidates for endangered species protection. (Daniel J. Cox / Oxford Scientific / Getty Images)

What do the Washington ground squirrel, the Pacific walrus, and the eastern small-footed bat have in common? All three—along with about 250 other animals and plants—will be considered this year for government protection as endangered species.

These species are all candidates for possible inclusion in the list of animals and plants protected by the Endangered Species Act because their populations are declining. This 1973 law protects species and their habitats from activities that might harm them. Many species have been waiting a very long time—some for decades—to be considered. The Dakota skipper butterfly, for example, has been a candidate for nearly 40 years!

On February 8, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a schedule detailing when it would decide on the current candidates. It promises to make a decision about at least 97 species by September.

PROTECTING WILDLIFE

One of the biggest reasons for the long waits is budget cuts. The wildlife service has had to spend most of its limited money on creating habitats for wildlife already listed as endangered. It needs more resources to investigate whether other species also need protection.

But two conservation groups, which protect something or keep it safe—WildEarth Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity—took the wildlife service to court over the backlog of candidates. The government agency then agreed to decide on all of the candidates by 2018 and to consider hundreds of new species for protection.

Under the settlement, 54 species have already been listed as endangered. Another 66, including the American wolverine and the lesser prairie chicken, have become candidates for possible protection.

The endangered list currently includes about 1,400 U.S. species and 600 foreign species, and nearly all of them have been brought back from the brink of extinction. The wildlife service has also begun researching whether an additional 550 species qualify for inclusion on the endangered-species list.

“It is exciting to see all the species that might finally be protected under the Endangered Species Act,” says Taylor Jones of WildEarth Guardians. “After years of waiting without protection on the candidate-species list, the end [of the wait] is in sight for these imperiled plants and animals.”

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