Latest from the group that hates what we do.
CLEANING UP THE BUSH LEGACY
The years 2000 through 2008 — the two presidential terms served by George W. Bush — amount to a Dark Age for endangered species. The administration was hands-down the worst in history at listing species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, with only 61 species earning federal protection throughout the entire eight years — compared to 522 under the Clinton administration and 231 under the Bush Sr. administration. Dragging its feet on responding to listing petitions, fighting stubbornly against protecting species in court, and constantly delaying real protection for species by instead placing them on the “candidate list” where they languish for years, the Bush administration regularly stooped to corrupt tactics that let politics dictate endangered species decisions.
The administration also did its utmost to ensure that those few species that are listed received the least amount of protection possible. Court orders forced the administration to designate critical habitat for more than 150 species, but in a rash of decisions snubbing species science, the administration slashed 67 percent of proposed designations by an average of nearly half before finalizing them, reducing protected habitat acreage by almost 63 million acres.
The most famous mammal to be listed during Bush’s tenure — the iconic, global warming-threatened polar bear — was robbed of crucial protections by a special rule exempting climate change and oil and gas development from regulation under the Act. And just before Bush left office, he finalized deeply damaging changes to the rules that have made the Endangered Species Act successful for 35.years.
The Center was kept busy throughout George W. Bush’s regrettable presidency, not only with lawsuits for individual species, but also leading the way in exposing the administration’s bad actions to the media and policymakers and pushing the drive toward reform. Unfortunately, the mess Bush made of our wildlife-protection laws is a big one, and we’re still cleaning it up.
LITIGATING POLITICAL CORRUPTION
At the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency that implements the Endangered Species Act, the undermining and manipulation of scientific data for the benefit of private interests reached a new height under the Bush administration. By suppressing, twisting, and ignoring information from its own biologists, the administration removed Endangered Species Act protections for species that still needed it, refused to grant protections to many species in the first place, and withheld essential habitat protection for a long list of others. Many of the illegal decisions were engineered by former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks Julie MacDonald, who resigned in disgrace following a scathing misconduct investigation by Interior’s inspector general. In many cases, government and university scientists carefully documented the unauthorized editing of scientific documents, the overruling of scientific experts, and the falsification of economic analyses.
To combat this species-harming corruption, in 2007 the Center kicked off the biggest endangered species litigation action ever undertaken, a campaign for 59 imperiled species and more than 8 million acres of habitat wrongly denied feder al protection because of Bush administration political interference. Since we filed our notice of intent to sue for 55 species in 2007, we’ve sued to protect 45 species, and we’re in the process of preparing suits for more. Our campaign has already met with significant success, prompting the Fish and Wildlife Service to agree to redo critical habitat designations for 16 species: the California red-legged frog; arroyo toad; vermilion darter; Mississippi gopher frog; four New Mexico invertebrates; the Santa Ana sucker; 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, thanks to our work, the Service will also reconsider listing the rare, highly imperiled Mexican garter snake.
We continue to push for better protection of all the animals and plants wronged through illegal Endangered Species Act decisions made by MacDonald and other Bush-era bureaucrats. We won’t end our campaign until we’ve ensured that none of these species’ recovery — or the political interference that led to weakened protections — are swept under the carpet.
Check out a timeline of our campaign and read what the media has had to say.
THE ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT EVISCERATION
On December 11, 2008, George W. Bush’s Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne finalized sweeping changes to the rules that govern how the Endangered Species Act is carried out — changes with a proven track record of failure that would gut protections for endangered species by excusing thousands of federal activities, including those that generate greenhouse gases, from review under the Act. The Bush administration finalized the rules after a hasty public-review process — in which more than 300,000 comments from the public were supposedly reviewed in two to three weeks — and afforded them only a cursory environmental assessment. The very same day the final rules were published, the Center, Greenpeace, and Defenders of Wildlife sued. Nine states, including California, New York, and Oregon, followed with suits of their own soon after.
In March, Obama issued a presidential memorandum instructing agencies to disregard portions of the Bush rules, and then Congress passed special legislation that gave Interior Secretary Ken Salazar 60 days to undo the regulations eviscerating the Act — along with regulations weakening protections for the polar bear — with the stroke of a pen. Secretary Salazar must do so by May 9, or the regulations will stay in place until and unless they’re overturned by the courts.
Learn more about the Endangered Species Act evisceration and take action to save the Endangered Species Act and the polar bear before time runs out.
“REFORMATTING” SPECIES OUT OF PROTECTIONS
On August 5, 2008, the Bush administration proposed another rule change affecting endangered species that would change the formatting of the federal endangered and threatened lists to dramatically reduce listed species’ protections. The proposed change would create a new column heading of “Where listed” that would essentially mandate protection for a species only in its current range. A column for a species’ entire historic range — the area in which a species should be protected — would be considered an "information-only column."
Because most endangered species have lost substantial portions of historic range, this rule could condemn many species to extinction. Take, for example, the gray wolf, which was listed as endangered in the lower 48 states and as threatened in Minnesota in 1976 — if this supposed “formatting” change had been in place then, the wolf could not have been listed in the lower 48 states where it wasn’t found. Likewise, if the change had been enacted after the California condor went extinct in the wild, the magnificent bird would have only been protected in zoos.
The amendment reflects a policy shift that was articulated in a 2007 memorandum [Link to Solicitor’s memo.] from Interior’s solicitor, which argues that the Fish and Wildlife Service must only consider and protect the current range of endangered species. The positions argued in the memo and put in place by the August 5 proposed amendment are clearly inconsistent with the language and intent of the Endangered Species Act.
Unfortunately, though this proposed rule has been pushed to the sidelines, it hasn’t gone away and could still potentially be finalized. The Center is keeping a close eye on the current administration to make sure it isn’t.