Check out Derek's excellent op-ed recently published in the Great Falls Tribune and the Missoulian.
By DEREK GOLDMAN
For anyone who has followed White House policymaking over the last eight years, it should be pretty clear that the George W. Bush administration has little regard for our nation’s wildlife heritage. In fact, this administration has spent much of its tenure seeking to undo longstanding protections, not only for wildlife and habitat, but also protections for clean air, water and public health.
Indeed, Bush, Cheney and company have left no stone unturned in their effort to undermine landmark conservation and public health laws including, the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, the Superfund and the National Forest Management Act, to name a few.
So, it comes as no surprise that, as Bush and Cheney prepare to ride off into the sunset, they would reward their industry friends for the millions in political contributions over the years.
The latest installment arrived just last month, when the Department of Interior announced new rules to seriously weaken the Endangered Species Act n our safety net for fish, plants and wildlife on the brink of extinction.
The administration is proposing to weaken Section 7, which applies to federal agencies. Like a traffic light, Section 7 requires the federal government to “stop and look” prior to permitting projects such as highways, dams or mines that might harm endangered species or the critical habitat necessary for their survival.
The agencies consult with independent wildlife experts at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who then provide guidance on how to modify the project, if necessary, so that it can proceed without harming wildlife. Consultation often results in project alterations that directly benefit imperiled wildlife n such as siting communication towers away from bald eagle nests, or requiring that culverts and water diversions allow passage of bull trout. The Section 7 consultation process is at the core of the Endangered Species Act.
Under the Bush Administration’s proposal, however, agencies could ignore their obligations to consult with Fish and Wildlife Service experts, and instead decide for themselves whether their own projects harm endangered species. The rule will essentially put the fox in charge of the henhouse.
For example, the U.S. Forest Service could make its own determination whether proposed roads or timber sales affect threatened species such as bull trout or grizzly bears. This is in spite of a recent audit that found that agencies that “self-regulate” jeopardized imperiled wildlife 62 percent of the time.
In another recently announced rule, the Bush administration is also proposing to officially change its legal interpretation of the word “range,” (the places where a species is normally found) to further justify denying Endangered Species Act protection to imperiled wildlife.
The administration recently invoked this type of semantic jujitsu when it denied protected status to Montana’s own wolverine, claiming that protection is unnecessary because, well, there are plenty of wolverines left in Canada. I beg to differ. To paraphrase Aldo Leopold, outsourcing wildlife to Canada is like outsourcing happiness to heaven n one may never get there.
The Endangered Species Act is one of our most important and successful wildlife (and habitat) protection laws. Since 1973, only nine of nearly 1,300 species the act protects have been declared extinct. The act protects not only these listed species themselves, but also our rivers, mountains, and plains that these and many other wildlife species call home.
As Bush, Cheney and company begin to head toward the exits, you can bet there will be more attacks on our wildlife, public lands, clean air and clean water. Montanans and all Americans would do well to keep a sharp eye on the White House between now and Jan. 20, 2009.
In the meantime, you can find information for commenting on these proposed regulations by visiting the Endangered Species Coalition’s Web site, www.stopextinction.org. You can also contact our congressional delegation and let them know that you support a strong safety net for fish, plants and wildlife on the brink of extinction.
After all, we owe it to our children and grandchildren to be good stewards and protect endangered species and the places they call home.
Derek Goldman is the Northern Rockies representative for the Endangered Species Coalition. He writes from Missoula.