Proposed Changes to Endangered Species Act Create Dangerous Shortcuts

Polar bear. Photo by Ken Whitten.

The Endangered Species Act is well known for protecting plants and animals, but by defending wildlife and habitats, it protects humans too.

Despite the importance of the act, the Bush Administration recently proposed dangerous changes that would undermine its protective powers.

In August, the administration proposed that government agencies no longer be required to seek independent scientific review for projects that could affect endangered plants or animals.

Under the guise of enhancing “interagency cooperation” through “narrow” regulatory changes, the Administration’s adjustments to the act will weaken important safeguards.

In addition to protecting endangered species, the act helps protect critical natural functions, including cleaning air and water, that directly impact human communities, not to mention recreational opportunities that support many local economies.

Current regulations require agencies planning road construction or other projects that could affect endangered species to consult with ecological experts at the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The proposed rule creates a shortcut that would essentially allow agencies, who have limited ecological expertise and often have a stake in moving projects forward, to decide if those projects are safe for threatened and endangered species.

Additionally, if allowed, the new rule would prevent thorough analysis of a project’s global warming impacts by placing the issue beyond the scope of these environmental reviews. As such, the negative effects to threatened and endangered species from a project’s greenhouse gas emissions will not be evaluated — endangering wildlife and human communities.

The Wilderness Society submitted formal comments protesting the proposal in September.

“The Wilderness Society is particularly concerned that the administration seems intent on undermining the act and ensuring that impacts of global warming and a host of other activities never have to be assessed for their effects on listed species and their habitat”, said Linda Lance, Vice President of Public Policy at The Wilderness Society.