MIAMI (AP) -- Federal wildlife officials say they're working to reduce a backlog of animal and plant species in Florida and nationwide that may be candidates for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last week, saying the agency failed to respond to a 2009 petition to protect four Florida species. Those species include a bird, a lizard, a crayfish and a mussel.
A staff biologist for the Oregon-based center says the Florida Keys mole skink and the McGillivray's seaside sparrow could go extinct due to rising sea levels while the Suwannee moccasinshell and the Panama City crayfish are threatened by drought, pollution and development.
"We are not ignoring them," wildlife service spokeswoman Stacy Shelton told The Miami Herald (http://hrld.us/17FrmP3). "We have a listing plan. We are triaging the list, working with the states. We see listing as a last line of defense. What we'd rather do is proactively conserve so they don't have to be listed. We only have so many people and resources we can put on this. Our listing biologists have all the work they can handle right now."
Shelton also said federal wildlife officials are working with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to draft an action plan for the mole skink, a colorful lizard found on sandy shorelines in the Lower Keys and Dry Tortugas.
The McGillivray's seaside sparrow lives in tidal marshes from North Carolina to northeast Florida. Shelton said Florida and South Carolina wildlife officials are studying the bird.
The Suwannee moccasinshell is a small freshwater mussel that lives only in Florida's Suwannee River. Shelton said the federal wildlife service has begun field work on the mussel, looking for more sites where it lives and learning what threatens the species.
The agency also is assessing the status of the Panama City crayfish, found only in a small area of Bay County, Shelton wrote.
The Center for Biological Diversity sued the fish and wildlife service in 2011 over a backlog of 757 species proposed for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Under a settlement agreement, the center can push forward 10 species per year for a decision.