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DEFENDING ENDANGERED SPECIES: Act Attacks

The Endangered Species Act is under attack on several fronts, including by provisions under consideration in the House that would:

  • Forbid the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from regulating pesticides that have been shown to have a harmful effect on endangered species.
  • Prevent the Fish and Wildlife Service from listing the dunes sagebrush lizard and lesser prairie chicken, two species dependent on desert habitats. (The agency has been actively seeking to list the species for several years but has lacked funding to do so.)
  • Eliminate funding for the recovery of the Mexican wolf.
  • Block the Service from establishing a manatee refuge in Citrus County, Fla.
  • Prohibit the federal government from taking any action to protect native bighorn sheep that would reduce the number of livestock on public lands.

In addition, the Obama administration has proposed several administrative regulatory reforms that could undermine the enforcement of the Act. One proposal would limit protection for endangered species’ critical habitat by narrowing the definition of “destruction or adverse modification.” Another would boost the role of state wildlife agencies in making listing decisions, which could lead to more situations like those in Idaho and Wyoming, where state agencies are blatantly hostile to wild wolves.

Beyond these short-term actions, Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, is planning to hold hearings geared toward reauthorization of the Endangered Species Act, which hasn’t occurred since 1988. Hastings is expected to try to limit public participation in how the law is carried out, including placing limits on lawsuits and scientific petitions filed under the Act. That approach runs counter to the success that the Act has enjoyed due to the participation of citizens and groups like the Center. Research by the Center shows that 93 percent of listed species are holding steady or improving, and the Center’s listing petitions and litigation have contributed greatly to this success by opening the door to real protection for imperiled species.

Instead of these legislative and administrative reforms, which will only hamstring efforts to protect endangered species and their habitats, the Center urges the following changes:

  • Full funding for adding species to the endangered species list. This would eliminate the backlog of species that have been deemed warranted for listing but precluded by higher priorities, and it would provide protection for the multitude of candidate species that deserve to be listed but require more funding to complete the process.
  • Protect species throughout their historic ranges. Efforts by the Bush administration attempted to limit the implementation of Endangered Species Act programs to listed species’ current range, ignoring the fact that many species have lost more than 90 percent of their habitat.
  • Protect species by designating critical habitat for all species where such protections have been deemed prudent. Species that have had designated critical habitat for two or more years are more likely to be improving and less likely to be declining than species without such a designation.
  • Consider the impacts of global climate change. Given that threatened and endangered species are among the most vulnerable to global warming, consideration must be made as to how best to use the Endangered Species Act and other tools to help them adapt to the changing climate.
Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service