The listings come too late for some of the most imperiled species.
With an average 12-year waiting period for endangered species to be listed for protection under the US Endangered Species Act (ESA), some species are going extinct while they wait in limbo, according to a study published in Biological Conservation.
The ESA is the world's foremost law for protecting species at risk of extinction. But an official designation as threatened or endangered from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is required before protection is granted to a given species under the Act.
The listing process is supposed to take two years from the time it’s initiated, but researchers analyzing the amount of time 1338 listed species spent in review between 1973 and 2014 found that species tended to wait around 12 years to receive protection, “with plants and invertebrates experiencing longer wait times than vertebrates,” they write.
“Some of the plant species waited almost the entire history of the ESA before being listed,” lead author Emily Puckett, from the University of Missouri, told Mongabay. “Given that we only analyzed listed species and not species still under consideration, there may be additional species that remain imperiled and without protection afforded by the law.”
But waiting for protection is not an option for some of the highest-risk species. Previous studies found that at least 42 species went extinct between 1973 and 1995, while they were in line to be listed.
Just this week, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice of intent to sue the US FWS for passing the deadlines on filing 417 species under the Act, most of which were petitioned for protection more than five years ago.