Friday, September 26, 2008

'Stop, Look’ Rule Endangers Species

Check out Derek's excellent op-ed recently published in the Great Falls Tribune and the Missoulian.


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, 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.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Bush Administration Officials Boycott of Senate Hearing Disgraceful

Yesterday, an incredible thing happened, demonstrating yet again the Bush administration’s complete contempt for the American public.

As I arrived about 15 minutes before the Senate Environment and Public Work Committee’s hearing on Bush’s environmental record, there was noticeable electricity in the air as everyone waited in line for the hearing room to be open. I heard people buzzing about “no-shows” and spotted our board member Susan Holmes from EarthJustice (an ESC member group) in line.

Susan told me what was up. Incredibly, both the Department of Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency were actually boycotting the hearing. Both had pulled out of testifying at the very last minute. I had never heard of such a thing. And to add to the drama, Senator James Inhofe (OK)—who thinks that human caused global warming is a hoax perpetrated by the environmental community—opposed the hearing, forcing the Senate to suspend its session (in the middle of dealing with the financial crisis) in order to allow the hearing to proceed.

The hearing did proceed, with Senator Barbara Boxer (CA), Chair of the Committee clearly outraged at the administration’s conduct. Senator Boxer called the administration “cowardly.”

Having to answer for their environmental record should make the Bush administration scared. Real advances in protecting our environment have been few and far between. Adding to their concern, no doubt, was the fact that in the hearing the day before, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) caught the Environmental Protection Agency in a serious lie. So, Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks Lyle Laverty got away without having to defend the Bush Extinction Plan.

In response to their boycott, Senator Boxer said, “This is serious stuff. When you don't show up you are not fulfilling your constitutional obligation.” And, Jamie Rappaport Clark, the former head of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and current Executive Vice President of Defenders of Wildlife (an ESC member group), echoed that sentiment when she spoke eloquently during her testimony about the obligation of testifying before Congress.

It is high time for the Bush administration to start taking the law seriously.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Oceana's Work to Keep Sharks Safe

Oceana, one of the Endangered Species Coalition's member groups, is working to protect sharks. We thought our readers would be interested to learn more and have asked Oceana to do a guest posting to our blog. Check it out!

Dr. Lark: Stop Using Sharks

Hi all, Emily Fisher, online editor from Oceana here.

At Oceana, we work to protect the world’s oceans, and one of our campaigns is devoted to saving sharks, which are some of the ocean’s most important – and most threatened – predators.

Right now we’re especially concerned about beauty care supplier Dr. Susan Lark. She promotes squalane – an ingredient found in the livers of sharks -- for its ability to help skin “maintain its moisture and elasticity.” But squalane can be obtained from much more abundant sources, including olives.

Deep-sea sharks are some of the most vulnerable sharks in the world. They typically grow slowly, mature late in life and have only a few young during their long lives. As a result, deep sea shark populations are at extreme risk from exploitation and recover very slowly.

Dr. Lark claims this product is okay because the sharks are caught as bycatch in the orange roughy fishery. But get this: to catch orange roughy, heavy trawl gear is pulled over seamounts - underwater mountains teeming with fish, deep sea corals, and large sponges – scooping up everything in its path.

This dirty fishing practice has decimated the populations of orange roughy, deep sea sharks and other species while damaging corals that are thousands of years old. That’s why virtually all “safe seafood guides” beg consumers to avoid eating orange roughy altogether.

Help us in our fight to save sharks – tell Dr. Lark to stop using shark squalane. These predators are crucial to the health – and beauty – of our oceans.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Scandal at the Department of Interior Shows that Checks and Balances Are Crucial

The Inspector General’s Office of the Department of Interior has recently released a report with a tabloid-like story about their three investigations into the Department of Interior’s Mineral’s Managment Service (MMS). Among its other responsibilities, this agency manages off-shore oil leases.

The Inspector General found that this agency has operated with “a culture of ethical failure,” linking government officials in Denver and in Washington, D.C. to numerous ethical, and in some cases criminal, lapses. The wrongdoing included rigging contracts so that a former employee would win the bid and allowing companies to revise their bids downward after they won contracts to buy oil and gas.

The report expressed concern about the types of socializing that occurred within the agency and with oil companies. For instance, government officials received “a wide array of gifts and gratuities from oil and gas companies” with whom the agency was conducting official business. The gifts—including golf, ski and paintball outings; meals; and tickets to a concert, and professional sports games—were accepted with “prodigious frequency.” The Inspector General went on to describe concern over a culture at the office of “substance abuse and promiscuity,” as well as to highlight the problem of alcohol abuse in the socializing that occurred between oil companies and the government officials.

This report’s shocking details demonstrate that even those who work in the government agencies tasked with representing the public, can sometimes wander far off course. Thankfully, our nation has implemented a checks and balances system throughout our government and within many of our laws.

The Endangered Species Act is one such law. Before a federal agency can pursue a project that could have the potential of harming endangered species (e.g., an off-shore oil lease, a new highway, or a mine), the Act requires that the agency consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Brock Evans, Endangered Species Coalition President, eloquently described, in the previous blog post, how (and why) the Bush administration is attempting to torpedo this bedrock foundation of the Endangered Species Act.

The MMS scandal shows us just how dangerous it is to remove the checks and balances of the Endangered Species Act. The expert wildlife biologists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are needed now more than ever to ensure that decisions about federal projects are made according to the highest scientific and ethical standards.