In a notice published on January 15, 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announced a draft methodology for prioritizing species status reviews and 12-month findings on petitions for listing species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  81 Fed. Reg. 2,229 (Jan. 15, 2016).  The Service currently has over 500 unresolved species status reviews and associated 12-month findings on petitions for listing, and intends to use the changes to its methods to set priorities on how and when those unresolved petitions will be addressed.  The Service’s draft methodology will not apply to actions to delist or down-list a species from endangered to threatened.

The Service intends to use its draft methodology to create a National Listing Workplan, outlining all of the species listing petitions and the priorities assigned to those petitions, which will be updated on an annual basis.  Under the National Listing Workplan, species for which listing petitions have been filed will be placed in separate “priority bins” based on which species are most in need of listing and would most benefit from listing, so that those species can be evaluated for listing first.  In order to do this, the Service proposes the following “priority bins,” listed in order of priority:

  1. Species “experiencing severe threat levels across a majority of its range, resulting in severe population-level impacts” are given top priority.
  2. Species for which there is already strong data available on the species’ status have second priority. The Service notes that the strong data may support either a decision to list or not to list the species.
  3. Third priority will be given to species for whom there is scientific uncertainty regarding the species’ status, and for which the scientific uncertainty is expected to be resolved “within a reasonable timeframe” due to currently underway emerging science. Species placed in this bin would be moved to another “priority bin” upon research results becoming available.
  4. Fourth priority will be given to species for which there are conservation efforts in development or underway which are expected to address major threats.
  5. The lowest priority will be given to species for which there is limited information or data currently available, placing these species in line behind all other species for which more and better data is readily available.

Additional considerations to be used in developing the National Listing Workplan and determining any prioritization tie breakers are: (1) the complexity of the status review; (2) the extent to which the ESA would provide benefits to the species, its habitat, and to other species; (3) whether species status reviews can be “batched” together; and (4) whether there are any special circumstances that would warrant bumping a species up or down in priority level (e.g. if a particular field office is particularly short on resources to conduct a status review).  The Service anticipates that the National Listing Workplan will cover status reviews, 12-month findings, proposed and final listing determinations, and proposed and final critical habitat determinations for a multi-year period.  The Service believes that the National Listing Workplan serves to complement the 1983 Endangered and Threatened Species Listing and Recovery Priority Guidelines.  48 Fed. Reg. 43,098 (Sept. 21, 1983).  The Service invites comments on and additional information to inform its draft methodology until February 16, 2016.