Environmentalists Challenge More Bush Administration Political Interference in Endangered Species Decisions

For Immediate Release

Center for Biological Diversity
Contact: 

Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495

Environmentalists Challenge More Bush Administration Political Interference in Endangered Species Decisions

Increased Protection Sought for Six Species in Seven Western States

PORTLAND, Ore. - The Center for Biological Diversity today filed five separate lawsuits concerning Bush Administration political interference in designation of critical habitat for six western species, including the western snowy plover, California tiger salamander, southwestern willow flycatcher, Buena Vista Lake shrew and two California plants. The lawsuits represent the latest action in a Center campaign to undue politically tainted decisions concerning dozens of endangered species, which was initiated August 28, 2007 with the filing of a notice of intent to sue over decisions involving 55 endangered species in 28 states and 8.7 million acres of critical habitat.

"The Bush administration has the worst record protecting endangered species of any administration since passage of the landmark law," said Noah Greenwald, science director for the Center for Biological Diversity. "In the case of these six species, the administration's malfeasance resulted in the removal of protection for over 300,000 acres of habitat in seven western states."

For each of the six species, the Bush administration engineered drastic reductions in critical habitat. These reductions involved excluding large areas from critical habitat that were identified as "essential" to the survival or recovery of endangered species by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scientists. In the case of the California tiger salamander, for example, the administration excluded all of the 74,223 acres of critical habitat identified by agency scientists in Sonoma County, California. Cuts for the other species ranged from 23-100% of total acres identified as essential by scientists.

"The Bush administration has demonstrated a total disregard for the scientific conclusions of the government's own scientists," said Greenwald. "This disregard places these six species and numerous others at risk of extinction."

Implementation of the Endangered Species Act by the Bush administration has come under increasing fire with investigations by the Government Accounting Office, House Natural Resources Committee and the Department of Interior's own Inspector General, which resulted in the resignation of high level officials, including former deputy assistant secretary of interior, Julie MacDonald. Taken together, these investigations paint a picture of an administration that places the economic interests of industry campaign contributors over the survival of the nation's wildlife.

"The next administration is going to have their work cut out for them to correct the problems with endangered species management created by this administration," said Greenwald. "The endangered species program needs a complete overhaul."

Indeed, the next administration will be left with a legacy of 281 candidate species that are recognized as warranting protection, but have yet to be provided protection, a slew of critical habitat designations that the courts have found to be not scientifically based and therefore illegal, and an embattled U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in which agency scientists feel like they can't do their jobs. Correcting these problems will require increased funding for the endangered species program, a schedule for providing protection to all candidate species in the next five years, revision of all critical habitat designations in which political interference limited protections, and policies that protect the agency's scientists from political interference.

The Center's efforts to reverse politically tainted decisions has already met with substantial success. In response to Center lawsuits, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to redo critical habitat designations for 15 species, including the California red-legged frog, arroyo toad, vermillion darter, Mississippi gopher frog, four New Mexico invertebrates, and seven plants from California, Oregon, and North Carolina. The newly proposed critical habitat designation for the California red-legged frog alone totals approximately 1.8 million acres - quadruple the area previously protected. In addition, Fish and Wildlife has agreed to reconsider listing the rare, highly imperiled Mexican garter snake as an endangered species.

Background on the species:

Buena Vista Lake shrew: At the time of listing in 2002, the Buena Vista Lake shrew was known to occupy only four locations in Kern County, California, but has since been documented at two additional locations. The shrew's historic range, the Tulare Basin in the southern Joaquin Valley, once supported three large lakes-interconnected by hundreds of square miles of tule marshes and other permanent and seasonal lakes, wetlands and sloughs, but is now one of the most altered landscapes in North America with most of the lakes and marshes having been drained and cultivated. This has led to the severe endangerment of the shrew. Critical habitat was reduced by 98% from 4565 to 84 acres.

California tiger salamander (Sonoma County population): The California tiger salamander is an amphibian native to California that was historically distributed throughout most of the Central Valley, adjacent foothills, and the Coast Ranges. The Sonoma County distinct population segment of the salamander occurs only in the Santa Rosa Plain in Sonoma County, in a six-mile-long by four-mile-wide band of habitat that extends roughly from Santa Rosa to Petaluma on the Route 101 corridor. Critical habitat for the Sonoma population was reduced from over 74,000 to zero acres.

Munz's onion: The perennial herb Munz's onion grows only in the western part of Riverside County, California in open grasslands, coastal scrub, and juniper woodlands. It was listed as an endangered species in 1998 due to habitat loss and degradation caused by clay mining and continues to be threatened by increased urbanization, ORVs, competition with nonnative species and other factors. Critical habitat was cut by 23% from 227 to 176 acres. More importantly, however, critical habitat excludes 14 0f 15 population sites of the species and over 1,244 acres of essential habitat based on unspecified protections provided by a habitat conservation plan developed by western Riverside County.

San Jacinto Valley crownscale: The crownscale is restricted to seasonal wetlands, including floodplains and vernal pools. And is threatened by habitat destruction from urban sprawl, ORVs, livestock grazing and other factors. The crownscale was listed as an endangered species in 1998. Critical habitat for the crownscale was reduced by 100% from 3845 to 0 acres.

Southwestern willow flycatcher: The flycatcher is a small, neotropical migrant, bird that formerly bred in streamside forests of southern California, southern Nevada, southern Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, western Texas and extreme northwestern Mexico. Within this range, the flycatcher has lost more than 90% of its habitat to dams, water withdrawal, livestock grazing, urban sprawl and other factors. It was listed as an endangered species in 1995. Critical habitat was reduced by 68% from 376095 to 120,824 acres. The Center is represented by Geoff Hickox of the Western Environmental Law Center.

Western snowy plover (Pacific Coast population): The Pacific coast population of the western snowy plover was listed as a threatened species in 1993 because of loss and degradation of habitat caused by urban sprawl and other factors and widespread and frequent disturbance of nesting sites by off-road vehicles. At the time of listing, snowy plover breeding sites were reduced by 62 percent in California (from 53 to 20 sites), with greatest losses of sites in southern California, by 79 percent in Oregon to only six breeding sites, and by 60 percent in Washington to only 2 sites. In 2005, the Bush administration reduced critical habitat by 30% from 17,299 to 12,145 acres, allowing off-road vehicles to threaten plover nesting and feeding areas in central California and Oregon, and abandoning key areas crucial for recovery.

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