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Plea To Expand Endangered List

Scientists, including acclaimed wildlife biologist Jane Goodall, joined environmental groups Tuesday in petitioning the government to add 225 plants and animals to the endangered species list.

The species are not new to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; four-fifths have been on the agency's waiting list for a decade. Some have been waiting since 1975. The average is 17 years.

Goodall, known for her pioneering research on chimpanzees, signed the petitions, joined by other prominent scientists including biologists E.O. Wilson of Harvard University and Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University, actor Martin Sheen, and literary lions including Pulitzer Prize winner Barbara Kingsolver and former U.S. poet laureate Robert Hass.

"Wildlife is facing serious threats almost everywhere," said Goodall, accusing the Bush administration of seeking to undermine the Endangered Species Act.

"It is too late to save the California grizzly bear, the eastern cougar, the Carolina parakeet, the passenger pigeon, or the silver trout. They became extinct before America created the Endangered Species Act, our modern day Noah's Ark," said Hass. "But we're not too late to save the 225 plants and animals "languishing on the federal candidate list. It's time to open the doors of the ark and let them in. They should be placed on the endangered species list as soon as possible."

Eleven individuals and three environmental organizations filed the petitions, said Brian Nowicki, a conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, which organized the effort.

A spokesman for the Interior Department accused the Tucson-based group of misrepresenting the realities of the endangered species program. Hugh Vickery attributed a decline in listing new species to "a flood of lawsuits" filed by the center and other plaintiffs since 1997.

The 225 species listed in the petitions are from 39 states, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Mariana and Northern Mariana islands and American Samoa. Nearly half are from Hawaii.

The species the environmental groups want protected include the Oregon spotted frog - waiting since 1991; the Aquarius paintbrush, a Utah plant, and the white fringeless orchid, found in several southern states, both waiting since 1975; the yellowcheek darter, an Arkansas fish, wait-listed since 1975; and the Hawaiian band-rumped storm petrel, a bird waiting since 1989.

More than 1,200 species have been placed on the endangered list since the Endangered Species Act became law in 1973, Nowicki said. The Bush administration has listed only 31 species as endangered, in contrast to an average of 65 a year by the Clinton administration and 59 a year under the first President Bush.

The Center for Biological Diversity is calling on the Bush administration to ask Congress for the $153 million the Fish and Wildlife Service has said it would need to expand the endangered species list and protect the habitats of the new arrivals on the list.

The environmental group notes that the White House has asked Congress for only $12 million in the current year.