For Immediate Release
Carol Goldberg (202) 265-7337
Endangered Species Act Fell Into Disuse Under Nominee
Only One Jeopardy Opinion in Nearly 6,000 Consultations as Staff Told to Refrain
WASHINGTON - The man named by the Obama administration to administer the
Endangered Species Act almost never invoked it to protect wildlife,
according to agency statistics released today by Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In fact, Sam Hamilton, whose
nomination to head the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) is now
pending, had by far the weakest record on Endangered Species Act
enforcement of any comparable official in the country.
Since 1997, Hamilton has overseen the 10-state FWS Southeastern Region,
which has the biggest and most numerous endangered species issues of
any region. FWS records covering the three year period 2004 through
2006, the latest available, show that Hamilton’s region conducted 5,974
reviews (called consultations) of development permits or other federal
agency actions. Yet Hamilton issued only one objection, called a
jeopardy opinion or letter. By contrast, during the same period the FWS
Rocky Mountain Region had less than one tenth as many consultations
(586) but issued 100 jeopardy opinions.
“Under Sam Hamilton, the Endangered Species Act has become a
dead letter,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the
White House announcement on Hamilton touted his “innovative
conservation” work. “Apparently, the word ‘no’ is not part of
‘innovative’ in Mr. Hamilton’s lexicon.”
The ability of FWS to require consultation under the Endangered
Species Act was recently restored by the Obama administration in
reversing a controversial “midnight regulation” issued in the waning
days of the Bush presidency. In reinstating mandatory consultations
this April, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar cited this review as being
vital for “ensuring that threatened and endangered species continue to
receive the full protection of the law”.
Hamilton’s region includes Florida, where there has been intense
political pressure against any federal actions perceived to impede
development. Reflecting that pressure, FWS biologists from the agency’s
Vero Beach office wrote in a 2005 joint letter that their supervisors
had forbidden them from writing jeopardy opinions on any project, no
matter how destructive. One key supervisor called the Florida panther a
“zoo species” because the cat was already doomed to extinction in the
wild and that any jeopardy opinions at this point were a waste of time.
Under Hamilton virtually no species was listed and no critical
habitat was designated except by lawsuit, and even then the habitat was
severely truncated. In order to win these lawsuits, environmental
groups must show that FWS ignored clear and overwhelming scientific
evidence, usually from its own specialists.
“To end the cycle of Endangered Species Act lawsuits, the Fish and
Wildlife Service needs a director who is willing to follow the law and
actually implement the Act,” Ruch added. “Sam Hamilton’s record
suggests that he will extend the policies of Bush era rather than bring
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