Endangered-Species Evaluation Expedited

FEDERAL endangered-species protection should come faster because of a settlement reached in a lawsuit between the United States Interior Department and several environmental groups.

In reaching an out-of-court settlement with Defenders of Wildlife, the Fund for Animals, and other environmental groups, the Interior Department's fish and wildlife division agreed Tuesday to designate 400 plants and animals as endangered and subject to special protection by September 1996.

In addition, more than 900 other species will be given priority for evaluation, the government's first step in considering a plant or animal under the Endangered Species Act.

The 400 species subject to the agreement had been under evaluation by the Interior Department, but no decision had been reached on their status.

"This is a big victory," said John Fitzgerald, director of wildlife law at the Defenders of Wildlife. "This will speed up the evaluation process and expand the list of plants and animals that deserve protection."

Mr. Fitzgerald said that of the 400 species involved, less than 10 percent were animals; the rest, he said, were plants or fish.

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