Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, January 28, 2016

Contact: Tanya Sanerib, (971)717-6407,

New Study: Obama Administration Has Dramatically Increased Use of
Obscure Provision to Weaken Federal Protections for Threatened Species

Broad Exemptions Sidestep Endangered Species Act’s Intent,
Allowing Oil, Gas Drilling, Logging, Other Habitat Destruction

WASHINGTON— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has dramatically increased use of an obscure provision in the Endangered Species Act in recent years to exempt activities that harm “threatened” species, including oil and gas drilling, logging, ranching and development, according to a new report released today by the Center for Biological Diversity.

Lethal Loophole

Under the Obama administration, the Service has finalized eight, and proposed two, of the so-called “4(d) rules” that exempt primary threats to federally protected species, including the lesser prairie chicken, the American wolverine and, most recently, the northern long-eared bat. Those 10 4(d) exemptions constitute nearly half of all such rules issued in the 42 years since passage of the Act.

No single presidential administration has approved more of these damaging, industry loopholes than the Obama administration.

“We're very troubled that the Service is now using these 4(d) rules — which were designed to help protect species — to authorize the very activities threatening species' survival,” said Tanya Sanerib, a senior attorney with the Center. “These damaging exemptions are nothing more than a bow to political pressure from the very special interests that oppose protection of endangered wildlife in order to protect their bottom lines.”

Called “4(d) rules” for the provision in the Endangered Species Act from which they hail, such rules are supposed to put in place conservation measures for threatened species to prevent them from becoming endangered. But the Obama administration has increasingly been using them to allow the very activities that caused species to be at risk in the first place.

The Center found that 19 of the 75 4(d) rules enacted for domestic species since 1975 have authorized activities the Service identified as threats to species when listing the species as threatened. Of those 19 rules, eight — 42 percent — were adopted by the Obama administration. The administration proposed two other problematic 4(d) rules, for the American wolverine and bi-state population of sage grouse. But rather than protecting these species, the agency caved to considerable political pressure and withdrew protection altogether; thus those two 4(d) rules were never finalized. Counting the proposed exemptions for the wolverine and bi-state sage grouse, the administration has been responsible for 48 percent of all problematic 4(d) rules that allow sweeping habitat destruction in areas where imperiled species have been protected as “threatened.”

“Our report illustrates that increasingly politics — not science or the law — is dictating Endangered Species Act decision-making,” said Sanerib. “The Obama administration is robbing the lesser prairie chicken, American wolverine, streaked horned lark and other endangered animals of critical protections that are a lifeline to their survival.”

A number of the harmful 4(d) rules issued by the Obama administration have come in direct response to political opposition to protection. In the case of the northern long-eared bat — a species experiencing declines of more than 96 percent across much of its range — the Service initially proposed the species for protection as an endangered species. But after logging, wind-energy and oil and gas interests complained, the agency downgraded the species to threatened and issued a 4(d) rule that allows virtually all of these activities to proceed in the bat’s forest habitat.

The bat, as well as several other imperiled species, clearly should have received the more protective “endangered” designation, which would not have allowed use of 4(d) rule exemptions for ongoing habitat destruction. The lesser prairie chicken is left with as little as 8 percent of its historic habitat. As few as 300 wolverines are believed to remain in the lower 48 states.

“The American public overwhelmingly supports protection of endangered species,” said Sanerib. “We’re very disappointed to see this type of highly political decision-making about protected species under the Obama administration, particularly when the survival of North American wildlife species hangs in the balance.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 990,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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