Endangered species more at risk, group charges | VailDaily.com

Endangered species more at risk, group charges

Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is touting a grant program that helps private landowners conserve habitat for species at risk. But in the latest round of funding, the Colorado garnered only about $314,000.That’s barely a drop in the bucket when it comes to protecting endangered plants and animals, said Erin Robertson, staff biologist with the Denver-based Center for Native Ecosystems.The small incremental steps on private land don’t come close to meeting the agency’s legal obligations to protect and restore rare plants and animals, Robertson said. Landowner-assistance programs are a positive thing, but they must be adequately funded, she said.Along with two other conservation groups, the Center for Native Ecosystems recently released a report that details the agency’s endangered species listing between 1974 and 2004, finding that 42 species went extinct during delays in the listing process.The report concludes the Fish and Wildlife Service is failing to make “expeditious progress” to protect imperiled species, leading to a current backlog of 286 plants and animals. Among the local and regional species in steep decline are boreal toads, with a small presence in Summit County, as well the Parachute penstemon, a wildflower growing on rocky cliffs above the Colorado River. It occupies just two locations of less than one-third of a square mile. The penstemon has been listed as a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act since 1990. Both populations are on lands slated for oil shale mining.In fact, not a single species has been listed by the Bush Administration without a lawsuit, Robertson said, explaining that the groups issued the report to draw attention to the candidate species.The Endangered Species Act includes specific language that requires the federal government to make “expeditious progress” toward listing species on the candidate list. But after carefully analyzing the statistics for the past 30 years, the conservation groups’ report shows that progress toward that goal has dropped to its lowest level since the landmark environmental law was adopted in 1973.To date, the Bush Administration has protected 37 species compared to 512 during the Clinton Administration and 234 under the elder Bush’s Administration. On average, this Administration has listed eight species per year. In contrast, an average of 45 species per year were listed from 1974 to 2000 and 73 species per year were listed from 1991 to 1995.”This is the slowest rate of protecting species of any administration in history,” said Jeremy Nichols, conservation director of the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance. “This is not expeditious progress. The nation’s endangered wildlife need protection, not foot-dragging.”Fish and Wildlife officials blame delays on a long-term budget crunch that prevents them from doing the needed science. But Smith said an analysis of the agency’s budget shows it requests less than it needs to handle the backlog. Additional number-crunching suggests the agency is using its allocated funds less efficiently these days, with its cost ratio declining from 22 listed species per $1 million spent in 2000 to two species per $1 million in 2003, she said. Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton favors partnerships with private landowners over regulatory measures. Norton said the landowner incentive program is a prime example of the collaboration needed to preserve species. Altogether, the Fish and Wildlife Service awarded $19 million to 40 state fish and wildlife agencies. Nebraska, for example, will use its share of the funding to restore more than 10,000 acres of prairie by providing landowners with technical and financial assistance to improve areas where at-risk species live. Projects will include innovative and sustainable grazing techniques, haying, prescribed burning, tree and brush clearing, ecologically sensitive weed control, prairie restoration and barring construction. Vail, Colorado