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Tuesday, December 21, 2004

OTHER VIEWS: Turning the tables

Another lawsuit is the last thing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service needs. As the lead agency on most matters concerning endangered species, the service operates under a constant barrage of saturation litigation, much of it from environmental groups that have mastered the art of using legal technicalities to dictate public lands policy. But one group in California, the Pacific Legal Foundation, is learning to fight fire with fire.

The group is suing FWS to force compliance with one part of the Endangered Species Act that many environmental groups conveniently ignore a requirement that the status of federally listed species be reviewed every five years, to ensure that new information hasn't come to light that might lead to a de-listing. There are currently 298 federally protected plants or animals in California. But 198 of them haven't undergone their status review. The foundation is suing to force the agency to conduct reviews on all 198 species. "The reason is to ensure that the act is really working," said Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Rob Rivett. "If you never review the species, you never know that. If they're trying to administer and enforce for species that don't need protection, that's a waste of money."

For Fish and Wildlife bureaucrats, getting sued has become just another part of the job. One more lawsuit isn't likely to matter much, one way or another: paralysis is paralysis. But the loudest squawking about the lawsuit is coming from an ironic source. "What the Pacific Legal Foundation is doing is exploiting a loophole in the law to force the Fish and Wildlife Service to waste what limited resources it has on essentially useless studies," sniffed Kieran Suckling, policy director of the Center for Biological Diversity.

But Suckling and his group are masters of "exploiting a loophole in the law to force the Fish and Wildlife Service to waste what limited resources it has on essentially useless studies." It's what they do for a living. There's nothing that angers some people more than having their own tactics used against them.


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