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Builders around the nation are likely to see a spike in proposals to list species as endangered or threatened as a result of a May 10 settlement agreement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and WildEarth Guardians designed to resolve dozens of lawsuits involving Endangered Species Act (ESA) listings.
The goal of the lawsuits, which were consolidated in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, was to accelerate the ESA listing process for hundreds of plants and animals.
Adding more pressure to speed up listings, Fish and Wildlife signed a second settlement agreement on July 12 after the Center for Biological Diversity, a party to the consolidated case and three other pending federal lawsuits, threatened to short-circuit the earlier agreement unless additional species were addressed.
The Service has filed a multi-year work plan to meet the terms of the two settlement agreements. If approved by the court, it would be required to:
- Make final listing decisions — including critical habitat designations — for 251 species currently on the “Candidate” list of species by Sept. 20, 2016 (with milestones set in 2013, 2014 and 2015)
- Make initial petition findings — including critical habitat designations — for more than 700 species by 2017
The agency has not yet provided a blueprint for implementing the plan, which judging from its past performance is ambitious and perhaps not realistically attainable.
Just to meet the terms of the agreement on the 251 species, the FWS will be required to make decisions on at least 42 candidates per year. Historically, it has only listed between 20 to 40 species per year, with many interceding years in which no species were listed.
The agency hopes to complete its work in a less complex, less contentious and more effective manner, suggesting that the majority of the species candidates will be listed as threatened or endangered.
NAHB will continue to alert state home builders associations of upcoming FWS listing determinations in their respective states as well as continue to engage the Service to ensure that the decisions made are scientifically sound.