Center for Biological Diversity Asks Court to Compel FWS Action Regarding ESA-Listing of Caribbean Reptiles

Last Wednesday, the Center for Biological Diversity (Center) filed an action challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) alleged failure to determine whether eight species of Caribbean skink, “smooth, shiny lizards with pointy snouts,” must be listed as endangered or threatened pursuant to the Endangered Species Act (ESA). According to the complaint filed in the District of Columbia District Court, the FWS has not complied with “nondiscretionary, congressionally mandated deadlines” for making these decisions, further imperiling the rare lizards.

The Center sued Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, in his official capacity, and the FWS for the alleged delay. The Center, a non-profit conservation organization with over 81,000 active members, works through “science, law, and policy to protect imperiled species and their habitats,” according to the filing. The complaint argued that the Center’s members have a vested interest in the viability of species like the aforementioned skinks, that they rely on for “scientific study, observation of the species, nature photography, aesthetic enjoyment, recreation, and spiritual fulfillment.”

In particular, the skink species that the Center seeks to protect are reportedly “endemic to a few islands in the Caribbean Sea and found nowhere else on earth.” Yet, the complaint explained, “they are in steep decline from threats including habitat destruction and degradation, human-introduced predators, climate change, and accelerating sea level rise.” Accordingly, the complaint claimed that the FWS’s failure to make a timely determination further jeopardizes the already at-risk animals and hurts the interest of the Center and its members.  

The complaint sets forth the procedural timeline, starting with the Center’s Feb. 11, 2014, petition asking the FWS to list the skink species as endangered or threatened. Nearly two years hence, in January 2016, the FWS published a “90-day finding that the Center’s petition presented substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that listing may be warranted for seven of the skink species—the Culebra skink, Mona skink, Puerto Rican Skink, Virgin Islands bronze skink, greater Saint Croix skink, greater Virgin Islands skink, and the lesser Saint Croix skink.” In September 2016, it reportedly published a similar finding regarding the eighth species, the lesser Virgin Islands skink.

Under the ESA, the complaint explained, the FWS was required to make a “12-month finding” determining whether to ESA-list the species, but did not do so. In turn, the plaintiff has requested declaratory relief, an order compelling the agency to make the required findings, and an award of the Center’s attorneys’ fees and costs.

The Center for Biological Diversity is represented by its own counsel.