Activists: U.S. lost 114 species in 20 years

This file photo shows a Guam broadbill songbird, a species that went extinct in 1984 even though activists petitioned for protection in 1979.
This file photo shows a Guam broadbill songbird, a species that went extinct in 1984 even though activists petitioned for protection in 1979.Anne Maben / Guam Department of Wildlife Resources
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One-hundred-fourteen plant and animal species became extinct or went missing during the 20 years that the Endangered Species Act has been in effect, according to a group that monitors species protections.

"The number ... indicates a grave failure in federal management of the nation’s most powerful environmental law," the Center for Biological Diversity said in announcing its report Thursday.

Four out of five of those species were not even on the ESA list even though conservationists had appealed to have nearly all of them listed, the center noted.

'Political meddling' claimed
“Virtually all of these species could have been saved if the Endangered Species Act was properly managed, fully funded and shielded from political pressure,” Kieran Suckling, the center's director and co-author of the report, said in a statement. “Instead they were sacrificed to bureaucratic inertia, political meddling and lack of leadership.”

The ESA list currently has 1,265 species on it, either as endangered or threatened. Of those, 1,018 have recovery plans, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service, which enforces the act.

The study also concluded that:

  • 92 species became extinct without ever having Endangered Species Act protection.
  • Listing delays contributed to the extinction of 88 species.
  • 27 species became extinct while waiting on the federal candidate or warrant review list.
  • 21 species became extinct while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service processed petitions to protect them.
  • The greatest zones of extinction were the Pacific Islands, Western states and the Southeast. Hawaii suffered more than half of all the extinctions.

“Listing delays and extinctions have plagued the Fish and Wildlife Service for 30 years,” Brian Nowicki, a report co-author, said in the statement. "But the Bush administration has pushed the crisis to an unprecedented level. It has virtually shut down the listing program, placing an average of just nine species on the list per year. The Clinton administration averaged 65 listings per year, Bush Sr. averaged 59 and even Reagan mustered 32.”

Bush administration refutes report
The Fish and Wildlife Service questioned the accuracy of the report, noting discrepancies with four species, and denied "the inflammatory claim ... that it knew species would become extinct and deliberately did not list them."

The service noted that of the 1,248 species on the list in 2003, "only 2 percent of them were extirpated, while 33 percent were stable or improving."

"The assertion that the Endangered Species Act has failed because species went extinct before they were listed ignores the positive benefits other species have received from the act," the service added.

The Interior Department, which oversees the service, claim that the real problem with species protections are lawsuits by groups like the center.

"Faced with mounting numbers of court orders from six years of litigation," the service lacks the funds to designate critical habitat for species already on the list, the Interior Department stated in March 2003.

"Two-thirds of the endangered species listing budget is being consumed by court orders and settlement agreements requiring designation of critical habitat for species already on the endangered species list," the department said. "In most instances, designation of critical habitat provides little additional protection for endangered species."

The center responded that increased funding, not fewer lawsuits, is the best way to protect species.

The Fish and Wildlife Service and the center do agree that a major threat to species is loss of habitat. "The availability of fish and wildlife habitat has declined significantly," the service stated. "Between 1954 and 1997, urbanized land area almost quadrupled from 18.6 million acres to about 74 million acres in the contiguous 48 states. The consequences of this land consumption include wetland destruction and other types of habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, and degradation of water quality."

The full center report is online at

Fish and Wildlife Service background on endangered species is online at