Gutting the Endangered Species Act?

Once the endangered burrowing owl is ousted from an area, according to new federal interpretations, it would cease to be protected.© U.S. FISH & WILDLIFE SERVICES

Environmentalists are livid about a recent policy re-interpretation by the Bush administration which grants endangered species protection to listed plants and animals only where they are struggling to survive and not in areas where their populations are healthy or have already died out. The White House claims to be beleaguered by lawsuits from conservation groups citing the need to protect habitat for listed endangered species. It counters critics by asserting that the policy change will help wildlife managers focus on the most critical areas, and also help lessen the flood of litigation.

Kieran Suckling, policy director for the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, which has itself filed many of the lawsuits in question, considers the new policy to be a sophisticated effort by the Bush administration to gut the Endangered Species Act. He says the Bush policy ignores the loss of species from their historical ranges, making it easier to deny proposals for listings. He estimates that the new policy, if upheld by the courts, would remove 80 percent of the 1,300 or so species from the federal threatened and endangered lists, since most species have at least one stronghold where they are healthy.

"It’s just so clearly illogical and anti-wildlife that I can’t wait to get this before a federal judge," Suckling told reporters. "They are rewarding industry for driving populations extinct. Because as soon as you drive a population extinct [in a certain area] it is no longer on the table. It no longer counts toward whether a species is endangered."

In defending the policy change, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall says that his agency will not be reviewing the entire list of listed species, but would instead investigate individual cases brought to its attention by the public. "If someone feels like [listing a species] throughout their range is too much, they can petition us to just look at the significant portion," he said. "We intend to use this as a move forward."

Given the likelihood that the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups will launch a court challenge, the issue may not be resolved until a new President is in the White House.

Source: Center for Biological Diversity