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For Immediate Release, December 10, 2009

Contact:  Stuart Pimm, (305) 852 9749 office, (646) 489-5481 cell
John Vucetich, (906) 370-3282
Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495

129 Scientists Call on Secretary Salazar to Rescind Bush-era Policy
Limiting Scope of Endangered Species Act

Washington— Scientists from around the country today sent a letter to Interior Secretary Salazar calling for him to rescind a Bush-era policy that limits the scope of the Endangered Species Act by allowing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ignore historic range when determining if species require protection as endangered and to limit protection for species to small portions of their ranges.

“Ignoring loss of range when determining whether species require protection as endangered species makes little sense,” said Dr. Stuart Pimm, Doris Duke professor of conservation ecology at Duke University. “Resetting the clock to the present day could result in many species that have lost significant portions of range being wrongfully denied protection.” 

The policy, which was issued in 2007 by the Bush administration’s top lawyer at the Department of the Interior, interprets a key phrase in the Endangered Species Act. Under the Act, an endangered species is defined as any species in danger of extinction in “a significant of portion of its range.” This phrase is important because it means that species need not be at risk of extinction globally to receive protection, but rather can receive protection if they are at risk in significant portions of their range. The Bush-era policy limits the scope of the phrase by specifying that when determining whether a species is endangered in a significant portion of its range, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should only consider current and not historic range. The policy also asserted that when a species is found to be endangered in a portion of its range, protection would only be applied in this portion.

“This policy is limiting protections for some of the nation’s most endangered species, including the gray wolf, Colorado River cutthroat trout, and others,” said Dr. John Vucetich, a professor at Michigan Tech University and one of the authors of a study proposing a different approach. “The Endangered Species Act’s definition of endangered species clearly indicates that the purpose of the Act is to restore species to large portions of their former range.”

The policy is typical of the Bush administration’s approach to the Endangered Species Act, which was often designed to limit the law’s scope and was marred by controversy, including investigations by the Interior Department’s inspector general and Congress.

“Despite clear problems, the Obama administration has yet to revoke this damaging policy,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity and author of a study criticizing the Bush approach. “This letter shows that the scientific community has roundly rejected this policy and it should be axed.”

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