The Anastasia Island cotton mouse is gone forever.
So is the insular long-tongued bat of Puerto Rico and the Texas Henslow's sparrow.All are victims of mismanagement and a shortage of money that has kept the Interior Department from adequately enforcing the federal law that is supposed to protect endangered species, according to government auditors.
A report by the department's inspector general's office said Thursday that hundreds of other rare animals and plants may become extinct without any federal effort to save them because of shortcomings in the federal endangered species program.
During the past decade, 34 species have disappeared because of inadequate protection under the Endangered Species Act, the internal report said. It cited underfunding and personnel shortages and blamed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for not adequately managing the program.
Craig Rieben, a spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service, acknowledged a huge backlog of endangered species cases, but he maintained the problem largely involves a lack of money.
"Working with the (budget) constraints that we are, we feel that we're doing the best job possible. That's not to say that more couldn't be done," he said.
The internal report said it could cost as much as $4.6 billion to protect all of the presently known endangered species, while the Fish and Wildlife Service is provided about $33 million a year to administer the program.
The cost of merely listing the current leading candidates for protection was estimated at $36 million. The agency's listing budget is $3.5 million.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has put about 50 plants or animals on the threatened or endangered list yearly, but has a backlog of 601 applications where the species probably deserve immediate protection, the investigators said.
An additional 3,000 species are suspected of being endangered, but "are receiving little or no protection" while they await the federal review, the report added. It estimated that at the current pace it would take the agency almost 50 years to bring those species under the protection of federal law.
The Endangered Species Act, enacted in 1969 to protect species in danger of extinction, has been under attack in recent months, largely because of a bitter controversy over how to protect the Northwest's spotted owl.
The Fish and Wildlife Service last summer declared the owl threatened, and the Bush administration has been trying to come up with a way to protect the bird while limiting the loss of 20,000 jobs in the timber industry.
The owls are rapidly dying off because of intense cutting in the old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest. Any owl protection plan is likely to include restrictions in cutting.