WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity and 139 other organizations sent a letter today urging U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams to take immediate action to reform the agency’s process for listing imperiled species as threatened or endangered.

The agency’s process for protecting species involves multiple layers of bureaucracy and upwards of 20 people who only vet listing decisions based on political concerns.

Today’s letter states that “it is frequently the case — especially with politically controversial species — that listing decisions are made in Washington, D.C., including reversing the original listing recommendations of the Services’ own scientists.” As a result, “the agency has failed to protect species for years, even decades — making extinction much more likely and recovery much more difficult and expensive.”

“Instead of fighting at the front lines to combat the extinction crisis, the Service has been crippled by decades of bureaucratic boondoggles and illegal political interference at all levels of decision-making,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “It’s clear that drastic reform is desperately needed to fix this broken agency. We only hope that Director Williams will be bold enough to do so.”

More than 300 animals and plants are still awaiting protection decisions — including the western pond turtle, lake sturgeon and western bumblebee — while hundreds more imperiled species are not even under consideration. On average, the agency has taken 12 years to protect species even though under the Endangered Species Act, it should take no more than two. Nearly 50 unlisted species have gone extinct waiting for protection.

The Service has failed to make dozens of required protection decisions every year, violating promises in a workplan developed by the agency. In fiscal year 2021, the Biden administration failed to make decisions on 66 imperiled species. The agency failed to make required findings for 30 species in fiscal year 2017, 78 species in fiscal year 2018, 46 species in fiscal year 2019, and 58 species in fiscal year 2020.

The Service has also often denied protection for clearly endangered species, resulting in repeated court battles to overturn politically motivated decisions. For more than 20 years the American wolverine has been under consideration for protection with the agency seesawing between proposing protection and withdrawing it, only to have the withdrawal overturned in court.

“The Service is doing no better at protecting species in a timely manner than it did under the Trump administration, which was the most anti-wildlife administration in recent history,” said Greenwald. “Williams has the public support to make transformative changes within the agency, but she needs to muster the political will to do so.”

More than 24,000 members of the public so far have also called on Williams to reform the agency.

The Center recently filed a comprehensive legal petition urging the Service to, among other things, reduce political interference in the listing process by empowering career scientists to make science-based decisions without fear of political reprisal.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.