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1962 YellowSubmarine
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Thursday, May 31, 2001

Environmental Groups Offer Deal
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Environmental groups seeking to get species declared endangered more quickly are offering federal officials something in return: some relief from lawsuits.
Members of two groups that have sued to protect declining species _ the Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife _ are proposing to delay some of its suits against the Fish and Wildlife Service for several months.
The move is an attempt to break through a federal moratorium on listing species as endangered. It would effectively extend court-ordered deadlines the federal agency faces for establishing critical habitat for endangered plants and animals.
The proposed deal envisions Fish and Wildlife saving money by not having to comply with court orders, and spending that money instead on listing some of the most imperiled animals and plants. The agency banned almost all new listings in November.
Fish and Wildlife spokesman Hugh Vickery said a deal with environmental groups would free up much-needed funding.
``We're desperate to try to get species on the list,'' Vickery said, adding that money is tight because environmentalists have been ``clogging the works'' with lawsuits demanding critical habitat for listed species.
Listing species can be costly, because Fish and Wildlife has to pay experts to evaluate the species' habitats. When a location is declared a critical habitat for an endangered species, Fish and Wildlife biologists often must be consulted before the area can be used.
But the environmental groups noted that a deal would only be a temporary solution. In a report released Wednesday, the groups called on President Bush to increase funding for endangered species and scrap a proposal that would weaken protections.
``There are species out there that could literally be extinct in a month or two,'' said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Tucson, Ariz.-based Center for Biological Diversity. For example, he said, the Mississippi gopher frog's habitat has shrunk to a single pond that itself is shrinking; National Guard units have been pumping water to keep the species alive.
Wednesday's report said the problem is not too many lawsuits, but too little money. The report was unveiled by scientist Jane Goodall, actors and seven environmental groups.
The Bush administration has proposed increasing Fish and Wildlife's budget for endangered species by $2 million to $8.5 million, but that remains well short of the $120 million the agency says it needs to clear out a backlog of listings.
Environmental groups propose eliminating the backlog by spending $24 million a year for five years.
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