Bush Record on Biodiversity and Endangered Species

by Dan Tarlock

Editor's Note:  With the Bush Administration's remaining time in office now measured in hours, we asked CPR Member Scholars to remind us of some of the less publicized moments of the Administration's record on environmental issues.   Following is the first of several entries that we'll run on CPRBlog before President Bush returns to Texas.  A. Dan Tarlock is first up.

 

The record of the Bush II Administration on biodiversity is one of almost unrelenting hostility to the idea and sustained efforts, continuing into the last days of the Administration to gut the Endangered Species Act. The one positive legacy is the establishment of federal marine reserves.

 

The “highlights” of its efforts to gut the Endangered Species Act include the reduction of habitat designation, the subordination of science to politics (which was even worse than first reported in 2006), and the recent regulation that circumvents the statutory role of the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in jeopardy consultations.  Some specifics:

  • The Bush Administration is the only modern administration not to have designated a single critical habitat except under court order. And, the critical habitats it has designated are dramatically smaller than the Clinton Administration’s. It designated 115 million acres of critical habitat for 50 endangered species. In contrast, the Bush II Department of Interior has designated just 40 million acres for 195 species. The Clinton Administration reduced the size of 64 percent of the FWS critical habitat proposals. The average size reduction was 9 percent. The Bush administration has reduced the size of 92 percent of FWS proposals. The average reduction was 76 percent.
  • Suffering most under the Bush directives were Hawaiian plants (99 percent were reduced, average size reduction was 89 percent) and Texas invertebrates (100 percent were reduced, average size reduction was 89 percent).
  • Critical habitat for the spectacled eider in Alaska was cut by 22.7 million acres.
  • Eastern states lost 2.0 million acres of protection for the piping plover.
  • FWS biologists in the Southwest were ordered to slash 8.9 million acres out of the Mexican spotted owl critical habitat proposal. The result was a designation that excluded 95 percent of all known owls, 80 percent of owl habitat, and virtually all timber areas sought after by the timber industry. A FWS biologist objected: “the designation would make no biological sense if the [U.S. Forest Service land] was excluded since these lands are the most essential for the owl." Two years later a federal court agreed, calling the designation “nonsensical."
  • Habitat protection for the San Bernardino kangaroo rat in California was slashed by 40 percent, even though four scientific peer-reviewers warned that the proposal must be expanded. Scientific peer-reviewers also recommended an expansion of critical habitat for the Riverside fairy shrimp.
  • In all, the Bush Administration removed 42 million acres of critical habitat from the agency’s proposed designations.

Three other points:

  • Grazing on public land has long been identified as a serious threat to biodiversity, but the long tradition of masking the social costs of this activity through subsidies continues.
  • The manipulation of scientific reports by political appointees at Department of Interior agencies has threatened species protection. In 2006, the Union of Concerned Scientists sent a letter to the Fish and Wildlife Service Southwest Regional Director asking for him to rescind a policy that prohibited FWS biologists from considering the use of genetic information to maximize the diversity of existing populations of endangered species. The use of genetic information to determine the most suitable management of remnant populations and ensure a higher rate of survival because of the genetic diversity is common practice in captive breeding programs.
  • In 2007, Julie MacDonald, a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the office that administers the ESA, was forced to resign after it was revealed that she used her position to aggressively compromise protection of endangered species. She rewrote scientific reports, browbeat U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees, and colluded with industry lawyers to generate lawsuits against the Fish and Wildlife Service.

 



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