Second chance for endangered species

Interior Secretary Salazar and President Obama. Courtesy US DOI.

President Obama has reversed a last-minute Bush Administration policy that would have undermined the Endangered Species Act.

The move shows a restored respect for science in federal decision-making and a welcome new direction for the stewardship of our land, water and wildlife.

Obama announced the decision March 3, during a celebration of the Department of the Interior’s 160th Anniversary.

“Today, I have signed a memorandum that will help restore the scientific process to its rightful place at the heart of the Endangered Species Act, a process undermined by past administrations,” Obama said. (Read the President’s speech.)

“The work of scientists and experts in my administration — including right here in the Interior Department — will be respected,” he said.

The memorandum reverses the Bush Administration’s Dec. 11 decision to allow government agencies to bypass independent scientific review when determining whether agency projects, such as the construction of a road, could harm critical habitat for plants and animals at risk.

The Wilderness Society and its members took a leadership role in ensuring the Bush administration’s last minute tampering with the Endangered Species Act would be noticed by the media and federal policy makers [see our official comments to the Department of Interior] — and our efforts have now paid-off.

In reversing Bush’s last-minute rule, President Obama has ensured that federal agencies make land management decisions in consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service about the impacts their actions might have on a particular species.

The reversal also ensures that global warming’s impacts will be considered in endangered species rulings, an important step given that the International Panel on Climate Change predicts nearly 30 percent of species alive today could become extinct if global warming continues unabated.

In making his announcement, the president declared false the notion that we must choose from exploiting our natural resources or conserving them.

“With smart, sustainable policies, we can grow our economy today and preserve the environment for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren. That is what we must do,” Obama said.

photo: Interior Secretary Salazar and President Obama. Courtesy US DOI.