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For Immediate Release, November 2, 2009

Contact:  Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495

New Study: Harmful Bush Policy, Still in Effect, Wrongly Cut Protections for Wolf,
Trout, Mouse, Prairie Dog, and Penguin

PORTLAND, Ore.— A new study published in the international journal Conservation Biology, and authored by the Center for Biological Diversity’s endangered species director Noah Greenwald, found that a policy issued by the Bush administration in 2007 wrongfully limited protections under the Endangered Species Act for five species: the northern Rocky Mountains gray wolf, Colorado River cutthroat trout, Preble’s meadow jumping mouse, Gunnison’s prairie dog, and southern rockhopper penguin.

The study determined that the Bush-era policy resulted in protection being denied altogether for the trout and protection being limited to small fractions of their ranges for the four other species.

“According to our study, this Bush-era policy improperly limited protections for some of the nation’s most iconic wildlife,” said Greenwald. “This policy threatens the very survival of these five species and should be scrapped as soon as possible.”

Under the Endangered Species Act, an endangered species is defined as any species “in danger of extinction in all or a significant of portion of its range.” The phrase “significant portion of range” is important, because it means that species need not be at risk of extinction globally to receive protection, but rather can receive protection if they are at risk in significant portions of their range. The Bush-era policy, which was issued by the solicitor of the Department of the Interior, specified that when determining whether a species is endangered in a significant portion of range, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should only consider current and not historic range. It also asserted that when a species is found to be endangered in a portion of its range, protection would only be applied in this portion.

Both of these positions represent a sharp departure from past practice by the Fish and Wildlife Service.

“This policy allows the Fish and Wildlife Service to deny protection to species even if they have lost most of their historic range and to limit protection for species to the most endangered portions of their range,” said Greenwald. “That severely undermines protections for endangered species like the wolf, prairie dog, trout, mouse, and penguin.”

In the case of the Colorado River cutthroat trout, protection was denied even though Fish and Wildlife has acknowledged that it has been lost from 87 percent of its historic range and continues to face many threats. The other species were granted protection, but in only small fractions of their range. For example, even though the Gunnison’s prairie dog has been eliminated from 95 percent of its historic range and faces threats from plague, shooting, and habitat destruction throughout its range, it was granted protection in only 40 percent of its current range, including a limited area in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. 

“Despite clear problems, the Obama administration has yet to revoke this damaging policy,” said Greenwald. “This study clearly indicates the policy should be axed as soon as possible to ensure that more species are not harmed.”

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