The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service recently declared the Endangered Species Act broken and in need of repair.
With two-thirds of the act's annual budget going toward designating critical habitat, the agency says it will deplete the $6 million earmarked by Congress for fiscal year 2003 this month. Another $2 million is needed to pay for new habitat designations arising from backlogged court judg-ments and settlements.
Since 1997, when a federal court upheld a section of the act requiring the government to protect the habitat of listed species, environmental groups have seized on it as a way to slow development. But what irks Fish and Wildlife administrators is that the money could be better spent protecting species through direct protections for endangered species. Because of the resources required by the habitat issue, 259 species await funds for endangered or threatened designations.
"Imagine an emergency room where lawsuits force the doctors to treat sprained ankles while patients with heart attacks expire in the waiting room, and you've got a good picture of our endangered species program right now," says Craig Manson, assistant secretary of the interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks.