WASHINGTON – A federal judge on Friday approved a pair of sweeping settlements that require the government to consider endangered protections for more than 800 animal and plant species.
The order by U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan means the government must act on imperiled species ranging from the northern wolverine and Pacific walrus to dozens of snails, mollusks, butterflies and plants. Some decisions could come by the end of the year and others by 2018.
The agreement between the Obama administration and environmental groups resolves more than a dozen lawsuits that challenged the government’s handling of roughly 250 so-called “candidate species.” Those are animals and plants that scientists say are in dire need of protection but that the government has lacked resources to address.
The agreements also cover more than 600 species for which groups had filed legal petitions seeking protections. The government agreed to address those petitions, although there is no guarantee of new protections.
Some of the species have languished in bureaucratic limbo for decades. Gary Frazer, assistant director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the settlement covers species that face possible extinction without government intervention.
The settlement comes as the government’s endangered species program has been under assault on Capitol Hill, where House Republicans submitted a proposed Interior Department budget that have would barred any new listings under the Endangered Species Act. That proposal was defeated in a rare bipartisan vote this summer.
Frazer said current spending levels for the endangered program were sufficient to fulfill Friday’s settlement.