Up to 25 species of amphibians and reptiles found throughout the southeast United States may be receiving protected status under the Endangered Species Act (the “ESA”). The Center for Biological Diversity (the “Center”), a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to protecting species through legal action and scientific petitions, has informed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (the “Service”) and the Department of the Interior (“DOI”) that it intends to sue the agencies if they fail to advance the processing of the Center’s petition to have the 25 species listed as protected species. Once listed as “endangered” or “threatened, the species would receive various government protections pursuant to the ESA. These protections limit not only direct impacts to individuals within the species but also impacts to their environments. As such, presence of a listed species within an area can prohibitively limit a property’s development and use potential.
The Center issued formal notice of its intent to sue on May 22, 2012. The notice demands that the Service and DOI make findings pursuant to the ESA regarding the species. In its findings, the agencies may conclude that some or all of the species (1) do not warrant protected status under the ESA, (2) warrant protection, (3) warrant protection but that the promulgation of relevant regulations will require additional time, or (4) that “expeditious progress is being made to add qualified species” and remove others. See 16 U.S.C. 1533(b)(3)(B). If the Service and DOI fail to make any such determination, the Center has threatened to file a citizen suit to protect the 25 species, which include the eastern ribbon snake, the Florida Keys mole skink, the hellbender, the seeping salamander, and the Barbour’s map turtle. The Florida Keys species are viewed by the Center as particularly vulnerable due to the limited geographic range in which these species live and the threat of development on their habitat. Pursuant to the ESA, the Service and the DOI have until July 23, 2012 to make their determination. Stay tuned to the E2 Law Blog for updates.