Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, May 4, 2015

Contact: Brett Hartl, (202) 817-8121,

Obama Administration Weakens Endangered Species Act Requirements for
Federal Agencies to Consider, Mitigate Cumulative Harm to Wildlife

Final Rule Will Hurt Endangered Species by Allowing Death by a Thousand Cuts

WASHINGTON— New Endangered Species Act regulations finalized by the Obama administration put hundreds of plants and animals at greater risk of extinction by allowing federal agencies to avoid quantifying and limiting harm to endangered species from federal projects such as timber sales, oil and gas drilling, or other activities. The change was proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service, which have repeatedly failed to track how projects they approve are cumulatively impacting rare and vanishing species. 

“Species like spotted owls and Indiana bats are in real trouble today, not because of one single timber sale or development project, but because hundreds of such projects are being permitted every year,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “These death-by-a-thousand cuts scenarios are a major cause of species extinction. Today’s regulation all but ensures this problem will continue by allowing federal agencies to rubber-stamp projects that individually may only inflict a minor wound, but combined with hundreds of other such projects amounts to a mortal blow.”

The new regulations issued on Friday specify that federal agencies, such as the U.S Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management, need not quantify or limit the amount of harm to endangered species that will be allowed to occur under overarching management plans, including regional forest plans, plans for individual national forests, plans for BLM resource areas and many others. This will all but ensure that cumulative impacts from individual timber sales, development projects and oil and gas drilling operations will never be considered or curbed. A 2009 Government Accountability Office report found that the Fish and Wildlife Service routinely fails to track cumulative impacts to endangered species, concluding that the Service “lacks a systematic method for tracking cumulative take of most listed species.” It noted that the agency only had such a system for three out of 497 federal protected species in the western states. The new Obama administration policy essentially codifies this problem.

“Instead of addressing their inability to track harm to endangered species, and looking at the needs of those species to recover across the landscape, this finalized rule will make it easier to ignore the very impacts that cause endangered species to decline,” said Hartl. “At a minimum the Services should be required to set a cap on the maximum number of individuals that can be harmed by a particular action even at the programmatic landscape scale.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 825,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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