The federal Fish and Wildlife Service is in emergency triage mode as it struggles with an avalanche of petitions and lawsuits over the endangered species list, the chief tool for protecting plants and animals facing extinction in the United States. Over the last four years, a few environmental groups have requested that more than 1,230 species be listed, compared with the previous 12 years in which annual requests averaged only 20 species.
Some environmental groups argue that vastly expanded listings are needed as evidence mounts that the world is entering an era of mass extinctions related to destruction of habitat, climate and other changes. Such threats require a focus on entire ecosystems, they say, rather than individual species.
Fish and Wildlife Service officials say the barrage has paralyzed the listing process.