An appeals court struck down a policy Wednesday that had allowed federal officials to delay decisions on whether to list species as endangered.
Under the Endangered Species Act, members of the public can recommend that certain species be listed as endangered and granted federal protection. The law says officials must decide on the recommendations within a year.
But a panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had used a 1996 policy to improperly shelve decisions on two requests.
The environmental group said a decision on whether to list the Gila chub, a fish, had been delayed for 19 years and that a decision on whether to list the Chiricahua leopard frog was delayed for a decade. Both are native to the Southwest.
Fish and Wildlife adopted a policy in 1996 that allowed officials to refuse to decide on citizen requests about species designated as "candidates" for protection.