For Immediate Release
Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495
Two More Federal Courts Shoot Down Harmful Bush-era Policy Short-changing Endangered Species Protections
Policy Had Been Used to Try to Limit Protection for Wolves, Trout, Prairie Dogs, Penguins
PORTLAND, OR - Two courts this week shot down a 2007 policy issued by the Bush
administration that argued that protections for species under the
Endangered Species Act could be limited to portions of their range, and
that in deciding whether species are endangered, the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service could ignore loss of historic range. The decisions
apply to the Gunnison’s and Utah prairie dogs and follow another
recent decision invalidating removal of protection for northern Rocky Mountains gray wolves based on similar reasoning.
“With these decisions, the Bush-era policy is a dead
letter and ought to be immediately rescinded by the Obama
administration,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with
the Center for Biological Diversity. “By severely undermining
protections for endangered species like the gray wolf, Gunnison’s
prairie dog and others, this policy is clearly contrary to the letter
and spirit of the Endangered Species Act ”
Under the Endangered Species Act, an endangered species
is defined as any species “in danger of extinction in all or a
significant portion of its range.” The phrase “significant portion of
range” is important, because it means that species need not be at risk
of extinction globally to receive protection, but rather can receive
protection if they are at risk in significant portions of their range.
The Bush-era policy, which was issued by the solicitor of the
Department of the Interior, specified that when determining whether a
species is endangered in a significant portion of its range, the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service should only consider current and not historic
range. It also asserted that when a species is found to be endangered
in a portion of its range, protection should only be applied in that
In addition to using the policy to limit protections to
the wolf and prairie dogs, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has used
it in the same way for several other species, including the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse, Colorado River cutthroat trout and southern rockhopper penguin.
The resulting wrongful decisions on these species are all being
legally challenged and will need to be reconsidered. The Center had also
criticized the policy for wrongfully limiting protection for species
in a study published in the international journal Conservation Biology.
“This Bush-era policy improperly limited protections for
some of the nation’s most iconic wildlife,” said Greenwald. “This
policy allows the Fish and Wildlife Service to deny protection to
species even if they disappeared from most of their historic range, and
to limit protection for species only in places where they’re most in
The cases over the prairie dogs were brought by
WildEarth Guardians. The case over the wolf in the northern Rocky
Mountains was brought by multiple plaintiffs, including the Center.
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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.