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Federal Government Is Putting Nearly 300 Species At Greater Risk Of Extinction, Group Says

The Rio Grande cooter population is dwindling in Texas.
National Park Service
The Rio Grande cooter population is dwindling in Texas.

An environmental advocacy group is launching a broad lawsuit in an effort to secure federal protections for 274 plants and animals under the Endangered Species Act.

The Center for Biological Diversity on Wednesday filed a formal notice of intent to sue the Trump administration. The group argues the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has failed to issue timely decisions on whether these plants and animals qualify for the threatened or endangered species lists.

The Rio Grande cooter population is dwindling in Texas.
Credit National Park Service
The Rio Grande cooter population is dwindling in Texas.

Michael Robinson, a senior conversation advocate with the nonprofit, says creatures that get one of those two designations are eligible for a range of protections. Those include restrictions on taking, transporting or selling a species. It also gives U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service the authority to develop a recovery plan and provide federal aid to state agencies. 

“All of these and other protections afforded to threatened and endangered species have not been afforded to these animals and plants as they wait for a place,” Robinson said. “And the waiting puts each of them at much greater risk of extinction.” 

Nearly 50 of the species addressed in the lawsuit call Texas home, such as the Pecos pupfish, the Edwards Aquifer diving beetle, and the Rio Grande cooter. Robinson said the Rio Grande cooter, a type of turtle, is declining in Texas, where they are collected and hunted. Plus, these cooters are facing habitat loss. 

“We believe the Rio Grande cooter urgently needs protection," he said, "and it’s been waiting since 2012, when we filed a scientific petition to protect it.” 

There are two different ways a species can get listed under the Endangered Species Act, and one of them is through a petition. Once it’s filed, U.S. Fish and Wildlife has 90 days to determine whether the request presents substantial scientific evidence demonstrating the species is imperiled. If the agency finds there is evidence of a threat, it has a year to release a more detailed determination before getting public feedback.

Robinson said it took several years for the Rio Grande cooter to get the initial determination. 

A spokesperson for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife pushed back on the lawsuit, saying in a statement: “CBD’s notice of intent misrepresents the volume of our outstanding Endangered Species Act actions. A lawsuit will only serve to divert more of our limited resources towards litigation and away from the important work of conserving our nation’s wild life.”

A United Nations report released earlier this year says up to 1 million – essentially one-eighth – of the estimated plant and animals species in the world are at risk for extinction. Robinson said while we often hear about faraway animals that need protecting, there is much to protect in our own backyards. 

“Texas has a beautiful natural heritage to conserve," he said, "and these plants and animals that live in Texas need the protection of the Endangered Species Act so that future generations of Texans as well as all Americans will be able to share the world with this diversity of life.” 

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Becky Fogel is the newscast host and producer for “Texas Standard.” She came to the show from Science Friday in New York where she produced segments on zombie microbiomes and sneaker technology. She got her start in radio at KWBU-FM in Waco and she’s happy to be back in the great state of Texas.