Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, February 28, 2017

Contact: Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495,

GAO Report Debunks Republican Claims About Endangered Species Lawsuits

'Deadline Suits' Ensure Imperiled Wildlife Receives Timely Protection

WASHINGTON— The U.S. Government Accountability Office today released a report that debunks Republican claims about settlement agreements under the Endangered Species Act.

Republicans have claimed that requiring the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service to expedite decisions about protecting species under the Act somehow cuts affected interests, such as states or industry, out of the process.

But today's GAO report concludes that settlement agreements did not “affect the substantive basis or procedural rule-making requirements the Services were to follow in completing the actions, such as providing opportunities for public notice and comment on proposed listing rules.”

“This report's clear verdict is that deadline lawsuits don't cut states or industry out of decisions on protecting endangered species from extinction,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Complaints from the likes of Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) have nothing to do with what is a very open, fair and science-based process for making critical decisions affecting the very survival of imperiled wildlife, but rather everything to do with the oil and gas industry and others not wanting to see species protected in the first place.”

The report reviewed all lawsuits filed to enforce mandatory deadlines established by the Endangered Species Act between 2005 and 2015. Most cases involved findings on petitions to list or delist species, and some focused on conducting five-year reviews on already listed species and other actions. Lawsuits were filed by conservation groups, industry, local governments and citizens. In total 141 deadline suits were filed involving 1,441 species. 

The report shows a sharp drop in both the number of deadline suits filed and the number of species included in those suits since 2011 (see report graph below and table 2 in report). That is in no small part due to agreements reached between the Center, Wildearth Guardians and the Fish and Wildlife Service that required the agency to work through a backlog of more than 250 species that in many cases had been waiting decades for protection. The Service completed most of the work required by the agreements at the end of fiscal year 2016. 

“Contrary to scare tactics from opponents of the Endangered Species Act, deadline suits seeking endangered species protection are way down because the Fish and Wildlife Service has in fact been making such decisions,” said Greenwald. “The real fear now is that congressional opponents of endangered species will cut funding for listing or weaken the Act itself. This is clearly not what the majority of Americans, who support the Endangered Species Act, wants.” 

With the settlement agreements largely complete, the agency has developed a seven-year workplan for making decisions for several hundred additional species awaiting protection, including the American wolverine and Pacific walrus threatened by climate change and the lesser prairie chicken threatened by oil and gas development. No deadline suits have been filed by either group since the workplan was issued.

Delays in species protection have been a persistent problem. On average species have waited 12 years to receive Endangered Species Act protection, and more than 40 species have gone extinct waiting for that protection. Peer-reviewed studies show citizen lawsuits have targeted species that are highly imperiled and been effective at speeding protection for species.

GAO lawsuit graph

Number of Endangered Species Act Section 4 Deadline Suits Filed, Fiscal Years 2005-2015.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.2 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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