Joe Duhownik

TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) — The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday over four years of foot-dragging on a petition to regulate the use of pesticides in protected habitats.

The center sent the petition to Fish and Wildlife in January 2019, asking that it abide by the Endangered Species Act and prohibit all use of pesticides in critical habitats unless it has previously consulted with the Environmental Protection Agency to assess the pesticides’ impact on listed species, or if the pesticides are used to control invasive species or promote human health and safety.

Four years later, Fish and Wildlife hasn’t responded.

“Protected wildlife and plants continue to needlessly suffer and decline while the service sits idly by,” said Stephanie Parent, senior counsel at the center. “Pesticides are a major factor in the extinction crisis, but the service has literally no plan to deal with their harms. This petition should be granted so wildlife finally can benefit from practical, common-sense conservation measures to protect them from pesticides.”

Over the last 25 years, the EPA has registered more than 18,000 pesticide products, all without complying with the Endangered Species Act, according to the petition. As a result, the center claims, recovery plans for more than 250 threatened and endangered species are jeopardized by pesticides. In just the past six years, the rusty patched bumblebee and the California spotted owl were added to the endangered species list because of the effect of pesticides on their habitats.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service can’t keep ignoring its duty to protect habitat that is critical to our most endangered wildlife and plants,” Parent said. “We had really hoped the service would take this seriously instead of burying its head in the sand, leaving us with no choice but to sue.”

The center claims in the lawsuit that Fish and Wildlife has completed a biological evaluation for only one of the 12 active ingredients in pesticides that harm a majority of the roughly 800 critical habitats in the country. Of those 12, the EPA determined that at least eight of the ingredients pose a threat to about 668 critical habitats, and all 12 pose a threat to 205 critical habitats. The EPA’s assessment of the pesticide cyantraniliprole, for example, found it can harm up to 68 protected species and 112 critical habitats.

The center notified Fish and Wildlife of its intent to sue last week. In its notice, the center identified 42 species that would benefit the most from prohibiting pesticide use in critical habitats. Of those 42, the EPA estimated that 36 of those species’ habitats are affected by all 12 pesticides named in the lawsuit.

Fish and Wildlife didn’t respond to the notice.

The center claims Fish and Wildlife violated the Administrative Procedure Act when it failed to respond to the 2019 petition in a reasonable time. The 1946 law states that a government agency must allow citizens to petition its actions and respond to those petitions “within a reasonable time.” It asks the court to order Fish and Wildlife to respond to the petition within 90 days.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife didn't respond to a request for comment by press time.