DENVER | The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday that 29 species - plants, insects, mollusks and one fish - will be considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
The unusually long list of species comes as the result of petitions by WildEarth Guardians, a Denver-based environmental group that has urged the agency to list as endangered or threatened nearly 700 species in the past two years.
Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Diane Katzenberger in Denver said Tuesday's announcement is aimed at gathering data from the public on the 29 species, but does not guarantee that any of the species will ultimately receive endangered or threatened status.
"The petition finding does not mean that the service has decided it is appropriate to give the 29 species federal protection under the ESA," said Ms. Katzenberger. "Rather, this finding is the first step in a long process that triggers a more thorough review of all the biological information available."
The 29 species include 20 plants, one fish, two insects and six snails spread across 20 states, mostly in the Mountain West and Midwest.
In July 2007, WildEarth Guardians petitioned the agency's Denver-based Region 6 office to have 206 species listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The service pared the list down to 38 species in February, saying the request contained insufficient information to warrant the possibility of federal protection.
WildEarth Guardians has also asked the Fish and Wildlife Service's Albuquerque office to consider another 475 species. That request is under review.
Nicole Rosmarino, wildlife director of WildEarth Guardians, said the large number of requests were necessary because the animals and plants are "critically imperiled."
"To catch up with the biodiversity crisis in the U.S., the service needs to be listing dozens of species at once. There is a huge gap between endangered species recognized by the government versus ones viewed by scientists as imperiled," she said.
The group's petition asked the agency to offer protection to all species ranked by the Web site NatureServe as "critically imperiled" or "imperiled." NatureServe bills itself as a nonprofit environmental organization "whose mission is to provide the scientific basis for effective conservation action."
The impact of climate change on species has been a hot-button topic for years. Environmentalists have argued that the Endangered Species Act should be used to force reductions in U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions, which they say are responsible for creating warmer temperatures and thus jeopardizing the habitat of species such as the polar bear.
The George W. Bush administration listed the polar bear as threatened because of the melting polar ice caps, but specifically prohibited agencies from using the listing as a means of curbing emissions.
Last month, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that he would keep the Bush policy intact while President Obama develops a comprehensive approach to combating climate change.
Reed Hopper, principal attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation, which has challenged endangered-species listings, commended the agency for being selective.
"It's a good sign that the agency is going to focus on those species that warrant study and not just simply accept everything on its face," he said.