For Immediate Release, October 2, 2008

Contact: Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495

Environmentalists Challenge More Bush Administration
Political Interference in Endangered Species Decisions

Increased Protection Sought for Six Species in Seven Western States

PORTLAND, Ore.— The Center for Biological Diversity today filed five separate lawsuits concerning Bush Administration political interference in designation of critical habitat for six western species, including the western snowy plover, California tiger salamander, southwestern willow flycatcher, Buena Vista Lake shrew and two California plants. The lawsuits represent the latest action in a campaign by the Center to reverse politically tainted decisions concerning dozens of endangered species. The campaign was initiated August 28, 2007 with the filing of a notice of intent to sue over decisions involving 55 endangered species in 28 states and 8.7 million acres of critical habitat.

“The Bush administration has the worst record protecting endangered species of any administration since passage of the landmark Endangered Species Act,” said Noah Greenwald, science director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “In the case of these six species, the administration’s malfeasance resulted in the removal of protection for over 300,000 acres of habitat in seven western states.”

For each of the six species, the Bush administration engineered drastic reductions in critical habitat. These reductions involved excluding large areas from critical habitat that were identified as “essential” to the survival or recovery of endangered species by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scientists. In the case of the California tiger salamander, for example, the administration excluded all of the 74,223 acres of critical habitat identified by agency scientists in Sonoma County, Calif. Cuts for the other species ranged from 23 percent to 100 percent of total acres identified by scientists as essential.

“The Bush administration has demonstrated a total disregard for the scientific conclusions of the government’s own scientists,” Greenwald said. “This disregard places these six species and numerous others at risk of extinction.”

The Bush administration’s mismanagement of the Endangered Species Act has come under increasing fire with investigations by the Government Accounting Office, House Natural Resources Committee and the Department of Interior’s own Inspector General. That has resulted in the resignation of high level officials including Julie MacDonald, former deputy assistant secretary of interior. Taken together, these investigations paint a picture of an administration that places the economic interests of industry-backed campaign contributors over the survival of the nation’s wildlife.

“The next administration is going to have their work cut out for them to correct the problems with endangered species management created by this administration,” Greenwald said. “The endangered species program needs a complete overhaul.”

Indeed, the next administration will be left with a legacy of 281 candidate species that are recognized as warranting protection, but have yet to be provided protection; a slew of critical habitat designations that the courts have found to be not scientifically based and therefore illegal; and an embattled U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, whose scientists feel like they can’t do their jobs. Correcting these problems will require increased funding for the endangered species program, a schedule for providing protection to all candidate species in the next five years, revision of all critical habitat designations in which political interference limited protections, and policies that protect the agency’s scientists from political interference.

The Center’s efforts to reverse politically tainted decisions has already met with substantial success. In response to Center lawsuits, the Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to redo critical habitat designations for 15 species, including the California red-legged frog, arroyo toad, vermillion darter, Mississippi gopher frog, four New Mexico invertebrates, and seven plants from California, Oregon, and North Carolina. The newly proposed critical habitat designation for the California red-legged frog alone totals approximately 1.8 million acres — quadruple the area previously protected. In addition, the Service has agreed to reconsider listing the rare, highly imperiled Mexican garter snake as an endangered species.

Learn more about the Center's Litigating Political Corruption Campaign.

Background on the species

Buena Vista Lake shrew: At the time of listing in 2002, the Buena Vista Lake shrew was known to occupy only four locations in Kern County, Calif., but has since been documented at two additional locations. The shrew’s historic range, the Tulare Basin in the southern Joaquin Valley, once supported three large lakes — interconnected by hundreds of square miles of tule marshes and other permanent and seasonal lakes, wetlands and sloughs, but is now one of the most altered landscapes in North America, with most of the lakes and marshes having been drained and cultivated. This has led to the severe endangerment of the shrew. Critical habitat was reduced by 98 percent, from 4,565 to 84 acres.

California tiger salamander (Sonoma County population): The California tiger salamander is an amphibian native to California that was historically distributed throughout most of the Central Valley, adjacent foothills, and the Coast Ranges. The Sonoma County distinct population segment of the salamander occurs only in the Santa Rosa Plain in Sonoma County, in a 6-mile-long-by-4-mile-wide band of habitat that extends roughly from Santa Rosa to Petaluma on the Route 101 corridor. Critical habitat for the Sonoma population was eliminated – from more than 74,000 acres to zero.

Munz’s onion: The perennial herb Munz’s onion grows only in the western part of Riverside County, Calif., in open grasslands, coastal scrub, and juniper woodlands. It was listed as an endangered species in 1998 due to habitat loss and degradation caused by clay mining, and it continues to be threatened by increased urbanization, off-road vehicles, competition with nonnative species and other factors. Critical habitat was cut by 23 percent, from 227 to 176 acres. More importantly, however, critical habitat excludes 14 0f 15 population sites of the species and over 1,244 acres of essential habitat, based on unspecified protections provided by a habitat conservation plan developed by western Riverside County.

San Jacinto Valley crownscale: The crownscale is restricted to seasonal wetlands, including floodplains and vernal pools and is threatened by habitat destruction from urban sprawl, ORVs, livestock grazing and other factors. The crownscale was listed as an endangered species in 1998. Critical habitat for the crownscale was eliminated – from 3,845 acres to zero.

Southwestern willow flycatcher: The flycatcher is a small, neotropical migrant bird that formerly bred in streamside forests of southern California, southern Nevada, southern Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, western Texas and extreme northwestern Mexico. Within this range, the flycatcher has lost more than 90 percent of its habitat to dams, water withdrawal, livestock grazing, urban sprawl and other factors. It was listed as an endangered species in 1995. Critical habitat was reduced by 68 percent, from 376,095 acres to 120,824 acres. For this species, the Center is represented by Geoff Hickox of the Western Environmental Law Center.

Western snowy plover (Pacific Coast population): The Pacific coast population of the western snowy plover was listed as a threatened species in 1993 because of habitat loss and degradation caused by urban sprawl and other factors and widespread and frequent disturbance of nesting sites by off-road vehicles. At the time of listing, snowy plover breeding sites were reduced by 62 percent in California (from 53 sites to 20), with greatest losses of sites in southern California; by 79 percent in Oregon, to only six breeding sites; and by 60 percent in Washington, to only 2 sites. In 2005, the Bush administration reduced critical habitat by 30 percent, from 17,299 acres to 12,145 acres, allowing off-road vehicles to threaten plover nesting and feeding areas in central California and Oregon and abandoning key areas crucial for recovery.

The Center for Biological Diversity, a national nonprofit conservation organization with more than 180,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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