The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Bill Snape, Center for Biological Diversity, (202) 536-9351

Fifty Conservation Groups Ask Obama Administration to Strengthen Habitat Protections for Endangered Species


Fifty prominent conservation organizations sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke today asking them to strengthen protections for the nation's endangered species. Under the Endangered Species Act, federal agencies are prohibited from adversely modifying designated critical habitat of any endangered species. The groups are asking for a more specific regulatory definition of "adverse modification" in order to halt projects that destroy habitat.

"Protecting endangered species requires protecting the places where they live," said Bill Snape, senior counsel with the Center for Biological Diversity. "The existing definition of 'adverse modification' allows extensive habitat destruction and needs to be changed to comply with the statute and court decisions."

In a regulatory sleight of hand, the Reagan administration defined adverse modification of critical habitat as "a direct or indirect alteration that appreciably diminishes the value of critical habitat for both the survival and recovery of a listed species." In requiring habitat destruction to impact both the survival and recovery of species, this definition collapsed the prohibition against adverse modification with a separate prohibition in the Endangered Species Act against jeopardizing the continued existence of species and thereby both made the prohibition meaningless and allowed the Fish and Wildlife Service to routinely approve habitat destruction. A series of court decisions have invalidated the definition and the departments of the interior and commerce are rumored to be considering a regulatory change to address these court decisions.

"A regulatory definition of adverse modification that provides strong critical habitat protections is long overdue," said Snape.

To better protect critical habitat, the conservation groups' letter proposed the following definition for adverse modification of critical habitat: "A direct or indirect alteration that appreciably diminishes the value of any portion of any area of designated critical habitat for either the survival or recovery of a listed species." This definition both replaces "and" with "or" in response to the court's determination that requiring adverse modification to affect both the survival and recovery of endangered species is illegal, and clarifies that adverse modification does not have to diminish the value of all critical habitat for a species, but rather "any area."

"Our proposed definition would ensure recovery of the nation's endangered species by protecting their habitat," said Snape. "This is exactly what Congress envisioned when it passed the Endangered Species Act."

In addition to the Center, a diverse coalition of groups signed the letter, representing tens of millions of concerned Americans, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, Earthjustice, Center for Plant Conservation, National Audubon Society, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Republicans for Environmental Protection, American Rivers, Oceana, The Humane Society of the United States, Endangered Species Coalition, and many others.

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.

(520) 623-5252