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Take a number: endangered species running into long wait times

Aug 16, 2016

The Kirtland's warbler, an endangered bird in Michigan.
Credit USFWS

Endangered species are waiting in long lines for the federal government to make a decision.

That’s the conclusion of a study in the journal Biological Conservation on wait times for listing a species under the Endangered Species Act.

Emily Puckett is the lead author of the study. She’s a postdoctoral associate with Fordham University. She analyzed what happened with 1,338 species since 1974. She says according to the law, it’s supposed to take about two years to get through the process.

“The median time that they’re waiting is 12.1 years and not that two years. Some species are being listed very quickly, but other species have essentially waited the entire length of the ESA, up to 38 years before they’re ever listed," she says.

Puckett says reptiles, fish, and mammals had much shorter wait times than invertebrates and plants. She says one reason might be that many people have an easier time feeling affection for, say, an eagle, than a snail.

"We're vertebrates and we're biased toward wanting to save things like us. And therefore the essentially cute species, or beloved species, they don't necessarily have to be cute, that's the reason why vertebrates move through the process faster," she says.

A spokesperson with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said things have improved in recent years. They e-mailed this statement:

“In the last six years, the Service has experienced a more than 90% reduction in Endangered Species Act deadline litigation compared with the previous six years, yet this period has been the most productive in the last two decades for extending the protection of the ESA to those species that need it. Today, we have a sound priority system in place to tackle the outstanding list of species that may warrant listing in a manner that is both strategic and transparent.”