That's the finding of an the analysis comparing listings of "endangered" and "threatened" species initiated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency that administers the Endangered Species Act, to those initiated by citizen petition, researchers at Emory University in Atlanta reported Thursday.
"We found that citizens, on average, do a better job of picking species that are threatened than does the Fish and Wildlife Service," study co-author Berry Brosi, a biologist and professor of environmental studies, said. "That's a really interesting and surprising finding."
Since it became law nearly 40 years ago, Endangered Species Act has contained a controversial provision that allows citizens to petition the Fish and Wildlife Service to list any unprotected species, and use litigation to challenge any FWS listing decision.
The study authors said their findings are evidence of the need to keep the public highly involved in the process.
"There are some 100,000 species of plants and animals in North America, and asking one federal agency to stay on top of that is tough," said study co-author Eric Biber, a University of California, Berkeley School of Law professor who specializes in environmental law.
"If there were restrictions on the number of citizen-initiated petitions being reviewed, the government would lose a whole universe of people providing high-quality information about species at risk, and it is likely that many species would be left unprotected."
"The overriding message is that citizen involvement really does work in combination with the oversight of the FWS," Brosi said. "It's a two-step system of checks and balances that is important to maintain."
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