Environmentalists' Lawsuits Threaten Endangered


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Environmentalists\' Lawsuits Threaten Endangered

<font color="yellow"> Finally someone is making sense!

Environmentalists' Lawsuits Threaten Endangered
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Steve Brown, CNSNews.com
Friday, May30, 2003

Six years of lawsuits and court orders will soon mean that the U.S.
Interior Department's Fish and Wildlife Service runs out of money to
designate habitats for endangered species, according to Craig Manson,
assistant secretary of the Interior for Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Interior Department spokesman Hugh Vickery said the Endangered
Species Act (ESA) requires that a critical habitat (CH) designation be
made at the same time any species is placed on the endangered
species list.

"This provision has generated a flood of litigation that is doing species'
harm," Vickery said. The critical habitat designation, he added, "does not
add a lot" in protecting species because it "duplicates other habitat
protections in the law."

Historically, Vickery said, the agency has not made CH designations
when species were placed on the endangered list because it was not
considered "prudent." However, a 1997 court ruling found that the
agency's failure to make the CH designation violated the ESA.

"That really opened the floodgates" of lawsuits, said Vickery, who added
that a majority of the suits are filed by environmental activists. Other
lawsuits, he said, come from landowners and developers whose land
has been designated a critical habitat.

Vickery said the requirements that the Fish and Wildlife Service prepare
detailed maps of species' habitats, provide time for public comment and
complete economic analyses for the CH designation, all under deadline,
sap the agency's resources.

Congress needs to "modify" the ESA by putting CH designations in the
recovery phase of conservation under ESA and out of the listing phase,
Vickery said.

"Right now the law is requiring FWS [Fish and Wildlife Service] to
determine the habitat needs of the species at the point ... when it doesn't
have the scientific information needed, and it puts very stringent
deadlines on doing so," Vickery said.

"Whereas the information is developed that they need on that habitat in
the process of coming up with the recovery plan, which occurs later in
the process ... that would be a more appropriate time to address that

Environmental activists disagree with the agency's analysis of CH

Susan Holmes, a legislative representative for Earthjustice, told the
Seattle Times Thursday, "The designations protect those places where
the species need to recover and need to expand."

"It's a basic concept," she said. "The Bush administration from day one
has been hostile to the Endangered Species Act."

But Vickery responded that Bush and Clinton administration officials
have testified before Congress that the CH provision, as mandated by
ESA, "is not an effective way to undertake this conservation."

Vickery said "it is very time consuming and labor intensive" and diverts
biologists "who could be working on higher priority activities" such as
recovery and placing some of the 259 species currently in line on the
endangered list.

"It's very frustrating for these [biologists], who love endangered species
and want to conserve them," Vickery said. "It takes discretion out of the
hands of professionals and puts it in the hands of judges and lawyers.

"These are smart people who could make a lot more money doing
something else and they're out there doing this out of a labor of love, but
instead of being able to use all of that training they have to be making
decisions about what needs to be done (for conservation) they have
court orders telling them to go make CH designations and they're
starting to pull their hair out," Vickery said.

As far as coming up with the critical habitat designations, "It doesn't take
rocket science," Kieran Suckling, executive director of Center for
Biological Diversity, told the Washington Post Thursday. "It takes a little
bit of money."

But according to the Interior Department, such designations cost an
average of $400,000. Vickery said if the Fish and Wildlife Service were to
fulfill all of the current court-ordered CH designations, it would "eat up the
entire FSW budget until 2008."

Brian Kennedy, spokesman for Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., chairman
of the House Resources Committee, said the environmentalists were
using "the signature scare tactics they've used for the last three
decades" as a "tool for self-preservation, fund-raising and to keep their
paychecks coming in."

Kennedy said Pombo has tried on "many occasions" to amend the ESA
to add "sound science" to the CH designations and species-listing
provisions, but has met with stiff resistance from opposing lawmakers
and environmental organizations.

"If the focus is changed" and CH designations are moved with "the focus
on recovery and protection instead of just hyperbole and litigation, we
can really get some things done in recovering species, but the CH
designations record is abominable," Kennedy said.