Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.

For immediate release: April 21, 2003
Kieran Suckling, Center for Biological Diversity, 520-623-5252 x305
More Information: Annotated list of Court Orders, Bush Critical Habitat Record

Department of Interior Engineers Budget Crisis-
Won’t Comply With Court Orders to Protect 21 Million Acres

Species needing most habitat, most opposed by industry, singled out for lengthy protection delays

The Department of Interior has announced it will not comply with 24 court orders to protect the habitat of 37 endangered species. Protection of about 21 million acres in all western states, the Great North Woods, New England, New York, and the Southeast will be indefinitely delayed.

“Under the Bush Administration, the Department of Interior has shown nothing but contempt for environmental laws,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, “I’ve never witnessed such a consistently anti-environmental agenda.”

Among the states and species affected are:

Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana:
Lynx, Bull trout

Wyoming and Colorado:
Lynx, Colorado butterfly plant

Arizona and New Mexico:
Mexican spotted owl, Southwestern willow flycatcher, pygmy owl

California red-legged frog, Southwester arroyo toad, SW willow flycatcher,
Pierson’s milk-vetch, Ventura Marsh milk-vetch, and others

Bull trout, Southwestern willow flycatcher

Lynx, Mexican spotted owl, Southwestern willow flycatcher

Minnesota, Wisconsin, New York, New England:

Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee:
Eleven mussels

Eggert’s sunflower

Because habitat loss is the primary cause of extinction, the Department of Interior is required to designate specific “critical habitat” areas for all endangered species. Federal agencies are required to manage these critical habitat zones to ensure endangered species recover. The process has proven remarkably effective: endangered species with critical habitat areas are more than twice as likely to be recovering, and 13% less likely to be declining, than those without it.

Nonetheless, the Bush’s Department of Interior has waged a relentless budgetary, biological, and political campaign against critical habitat. In response to lawsuits by its industry supporters, it voluntarily revoked 27 Clinton-era critical habitats totaling 16.4 million acres. It slashed the size of 93% of critical habitat proposals issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. On average, they were reduced by 75%. In total, proposed protections were cut from 42 million acres of land and water.

While announcing that it will not comply with court orders to designate 24 critical habitat areas, the Department of Interior says it will complete 15 others. The difference between these two lists is startling. “The court orders to be delayed read like an industry wish list,” said Suckling, “Christmas has come early for the timber, mining, and development lobby.”
All 2003 and 2004 work to redesignate critical habitat areas challenged by industry and revoked by the Bush Administration are on the delay list. None are on the to-be-completed list. These species include the California red-legged frog, southwestern arroyo toad, and cactus ferruginous pygmy owl.

The courts previously refused to approve two Bush/industry revocation agreements. Redesignation of both (California gnatcatcher, San Diego fairy shrimp) is on the to-be-completed list. Having failed to revoke these important critical habitat areas in the court room, the Department of Interior is eager to undermine them through redesignation.

Of the 18 critical habitats most likely to reign in destructive industry practices, 13 are on the delay list, only five are on the to-be-completed list. Among the most important critical habitats to be delayed are the bull trout, Canada lynx, southwestern willow flycatcher, California red-legged frog, and Cactus ferruginous pygmy owl. Based on previous critical habitat designations, the Center for Biological Diversity estimates the delayed critical habitats will total about 21 million acres.

The Department of Interior is cynically blaming a $1.9 million budget shortfall for the needed delay. The shortfall, however, was engineered by the Department of Interior to justify violating court orders to protect those ecosystems most coveted by industry. When Secretary of Interior Gale Norton submitted her FY2003 budget request to Congress last year, she expressly predicted it would likely be insufficient to keep up with the work load. Congress was not stingy; it granted her budget request in full on February 13, 2003. Just nine weeks after receiving all the money she requested, Norton has announced that the Department of Interior can’t protect endangered species because it doesn’t have enough money.

In granting Norton’s budget request, moreover, Congress invited the Department of Interior to come back for more money: "The managers understand that the Department believes additional funding, beyond that requested in the budget, will be needed for the Listing Program in 2003 and the managers will consider a supplemental request for additional funds if one is submitted later this year." Rather than immediately submit a supplemental budget request, however, the Bush administration has decided to use the temporary budget shortfall to avoid court orders to protect those species most opposed by its industry backers.

“The Department of Interior is using the budget as a weapon against habitat protection. It has put the screws to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s budget,” said Suckling. “First Norton purposefully didn’t ask for enough money, now she is putting off Congress’s offer to provide more money. It is a cynical, cynical game to avoid protecting wildlife and open space.”

A list of those court orders the Department of Interior will not comply with, and those it will, is attached. Note that by including many critical habitats that have already been completed, the DOI greatly exaggerate the number of court orders it plans to comply with. In fact, it is plans to violate 24 and comply with 15.


more press releases. . .

Go back