The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) recently announced a draft methodology for prioritizing species status reviews and 12-month findings for species listings under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The proposed revisions are meant to aid FWS in addressing the backlog of over 500 unresolved status reviews, and focus resources on the highest-priority status reviews.  FWS will classify species into “priority bins” as follows:

  1. Highest Priority – Critically Imperiled: Highest priority will be given to a species experiencing severe threat levels across a majority of its range, resulting in severe population-level impacts.
  2. Strong Data Already Available on Status: Species for which there is already strong data available on the species’ status will have next highest priority.
  3. New Science Underway to Inform Key Uncertainties: Third priority will be given to species for whom there is scientific uncertainty regarding the species’ status that is likely to be resolved “within a reasonable timeframe” because of emerging science. Once research results for these species become available, the species would be moved to another “priority bin.”
  4. Conservation Opportunities in Development or Underway: Where conservation efforts are in development or underway and such efforts are expected to address major threats to the species, FWS will give these species fourth priority.
  5. Limited Data Currently Available: Lowest priority will be given to species for which FWS knows “almost nothing” about its threats or status.

In addition to these “priority bins,” FWS will consider other factors such as the complexity of the status review, opportunities to maximize efficiencies by “batching” species for status reviews, and other special circumstances that may warrant bumping an action up or down in terms of prioritization.

FWS is accepting public comments on the proposed methodology until February 16, 2016. Details regarding the methodology and submitting comments are available in the Federal Register notice here.

FWS also recently announced 90-day findings on petitions to list, delist, or reclassify species under the ESA. FWS determined that 11 petitions for listings presented “substantial scientific or commercial information” indicating that the petitioned actions may be warranted and FWS will now conduct a review of the status of these species to determine if listing is appropriate.  Among the species that will be reviwed are Caribbean lizards, the Great Basin silverspot butterfly, the narrow-footed diving beetle, the Scott riffle beetle, and the Northern Rocky Mountain fisher.

FWS also announced that it would not initiate status reviews for six species. Of particular note is FWS’ determination that it will not review whether to change the status of the Grizzly Bear from threatened to endangered.

FWS’ complete responses to the petitions are available here.