Arctic Science Journeys
STORY: For more than 20 years, the federal Endangered Species Act has helped bring animals like the bald eagle and gray whale back from the brink of extinction. But last year, the fate of hundreds of species was put on hold when Congress ordered federal agencies to stop adding them to the list. That moratorium was recently lifted, and biologists have gone back to work, deciding what plants and animals are endangered, which aren't, and how best to save those in trouble.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working on a backlog of 242 species proposed for the Endangered Species List. The service also must deal with dozens of lawsuits challenging the agency's decisions. Gary Jackson is an assistant director of the service. He says he'll deal with plants and animals first and lawyers later.
"We argue another point, and that is that with the limited number of people that we've got, with the limited dollars that we have, and the fact that we're having to sort of boot up this program after being down for a year, that we cannot afford to be diverted from these 242 species."
Another agency dealing with a backlog of troubled species is the National Marine Fisheries Service. Steve Zimmerman is chief of protected resources for the Alaska region. Zimmerman must decide whether to declare the Steller sea lion endangered.
"We normally would have been done with that long ago, but of course, because of the moratorium, we just put the comments in a file. We hope to get somebody in very soon, to review the public comments and come up with a policy and then a final position on whether to list or not to list. Actually by the middle of July we need to send back to Washington, D.C., what our regional position is. But by the fourth of October we have to publish in the Federal Register our final decision."
Scientists say they are working as fast as they can to catch up on the backlog. One case has already been resolved. California's red-legged frog, made famous in a Mark Twain story, was added to the list of endangered species in May. For Arctic Science Journeys, this is Debra Damron.
Arctic Science Journeys is a radio service highlighting science, culture, and the environment of the circumpolar north. Produced by the Alaska Sea Grant College Program and the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
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