03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Salazar: the Grinch of Speciesville

Interior Secretary Salazar is looking more and more like the Grinch of Speciesville - Endangered Speciesville. Salazar's latest Grinchy move was today, when he agreed that lynx dispersing from Colorado's southern mountains into New Mexico deserve protection, but, so sorry, they can't have it just yet. While he could have protected these lynx with the stroke of a pen, instead he sent them to the back of the line - a line with over 330 species, desperately awaiting protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife recognized in a 2009 report the importance of New Mexico (and Utah) for lynx dispersing from our state:

Although no reproduction has been documented in New Mexico or Utah to date, documenting areas of the highest intensity of use and the continuous presence of lynx within these states for over six years does suggest the potential for year-round residency of lynx and reproduction in those states.

But the wild cats heading south are encountering many threats. At least 14 lynx have been killed in New Mexico since Colorado started its reintroduction program: 4 were shot, 2 of them were hit by vehicles, 1 starved, and the rest died of unknown causes. And in New Mexico, unlike Colorado, there are few regulations on painful leghold traps, which have long posed a grave danger to lynx. Yet the Grinch said no, we're not going to give them protection just yet.

What's remarkable is that just yesterday Secretary Salazar showed that he knows he has the authority to quickly and effectively protect species left off the list due to agency omissions or new information, as is the case for the lynx. In a single paragraph of text, he provided protection to the Ramsey Canyon leopard frog after genetic research indicated they are really Chiricahua leopard frogs, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. It was that easy.

That text was in a larger notice, in which Salazar, acting through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, agreed to review 67 animal and plant species for federal protection. Earlier this week, he also agreed to review 9 freshwater mussels. Combined with other decisions this year, Secretary Salazar has said he'll consider for Endangered Species Act listing 110 of the species WildEarth Guardians petitioned. While these may sound like early Christmas presents, the decisions painfully point out how few of the nation's endangered species are currently safeguarded by the Act.

In fact, the majority of critically imperiled plants and wildlife in the U.S. have no federal protection. The irony is apparent: most endangered species are not listed under the Endangered Species Act. They need to be, as this law has an A+ track record of preventing extinction: 99% of the species protected by it are still with us today. See for yourself: go to the government's website to compare the number of species listed under the law with the number delisted due to extinction.

The huge gap between imperiled and protected species grows larger with the slow pace of new listings. While Salazar inherited a mess from Bush's Grinches-posing-as-Interior-Secretaries before him, he has failed to address the problem and has never been a friend to endangered species. As reported in the New York Times,

The Obama administration is lagging behind the pace set by its predecessor for listing endangered species...So far, President Obama's Fish and Wildlife Service has offered protection to two U.S. species, both plants, out of nearly 250 on Endangered Species Act's "candidates" list.

Just two? Out of not only 249 candidate species, but 88 additional species who were already proposed for listing but are still waiting for Salazar to sign on the dotted line? Delay can mean extinction, and several of the candidate species may already have gone extinct while waiting for protection.

Dearest Grinch, please open up your heart to the humble citizens of Endangered Speciesville, whose riches lie in their diversity, from beautiful butterflies to colorful wildflowers to iconic desert tortoises. Varied as they may be, these species share in common the need for prompt protection under the Endangered Species Act if they're to be around for Christmases to come.


Lynx Kittens, Photo by Colorado Division of Wildlife