To receive protection under the Endangered Species Act, a species must be on one of the federal lists of threatened or endangered species. Section 4 of the act includes mandatory deadlines for the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to complete certain actions, such as issuing decisions on petitions to add or remove a species from either list.

If the agencies miss a deadline, any person can file a lawsuit—called a deadline suit—to force them to complete these activities. We found that 141 deadlines suits were filed during fiscal years 2005-2015—mostly related to petitions to add a species to one of the lists.

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



The majority of deadline suits filed during fiscal years 2005 through 2015 were resolved through negotiated settlement agreements that established schedules for the agencies to complete the actions involved in the suits. Agency officials said that most deadline suits are resolved through settlement because it is undisputed that a statutory deadline was missed. Other than setting schedules for completing Section 4 actions, the 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. Officials also said they prioritize completing actions in settlement agreements in implementing their Section 4 programs. NMFS officials indicated that work resulting from deadline suits did not have a significant effect on the implementation of their program, in part because NMFS has not had a high number of petitions to list species. In contrast, FWS has delayed completing some actions to complete those included in settlement agreements. FWS has initiated several changes to help improve Section 4 program implementation, including developing a 7-year workplan that prioritizes the order for completing overdue actions and revising information requirements for listing petitions.

ENVIRONMENTAL LITIGATION: Information on Endangered Species Act Deadline Suits
ENVIRONMENTAL LITIGATION: Information on Endangered Species Act Deadline Suits (Highlights)

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John Stewart
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