The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
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Obama Administration Weakens Critical Habitat Protections for Nation's Endangered Species

 New Regulation Allows Widespread Destruction of Habitat, Increasing Risk to Plants, Animals From Death-by-a-Thousand-Cuts


A new regulation finalized today by the Obama administration will put hundreds of endangered plants and animals at greater risk of extinction by dramatically reducing protections for their designated critical habitat. The regulation green-lights development, logging, mining and other destructive activities in critical habitat for endangered species as long as these activities aren't determined to impact the entirety of a species' designated critical habitat. The regulation, however, does nothing to ensure that many projects combined do not drive species to extinction from death-by-a-thousand-cuts.

"This regulation is a big step backward for protection of our country's endangered species," said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Given that habitat destruction is the leading cause of species endangerment and extinction, this regulation makes no sense and is a big disappointment from the Obama administration."

Under the Endangered Species Act, federal agencies must avoid destroying or adversely modifying areas designated as critical habitat for endangered species in actions they permit, fund or carry out, including thousands of development, logging, drilling, mining and other projects every year. The new regulation limits this protection by prohibiting only those federal actions that impact all of a species' designated critical habitat.

"This regulation is nothing more than a giveaway to powerful special interests like the oil and gas, timber and mining industries," said Hartl. "You can't protect and recover endangered species without protecting the places they live."

It is already extremely rare for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to stop projects to avoid adverse modification of critical habitat. A recent study in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences determined that in the past eight years, only 0.0023 percent of federal projects were stopped to protect endangered species, compared to the 1970s through the 1990s when approximately 1 percent of projects were stopped. This new rule will make it even less likely that the Service protects habitat for species.

The administration also issued a policy today that allows the Fish and Wildlife Service to exclude areas from critical habitat based on, in many cases, vague promises from landowners to conserve habitat.

Over the past five years, the Obama administration has enacted several other administrative changes to the Endangered Species Act that collectively weaken its effectiveness, including a policy that drastically limits which species get protection in the first place, a final rule that gives federal agencies carte blanche to ignore cumulative impacts of multiple activities on endangered species, and a proposed rule that would dramatically curtail the rights of ordinary Americans to participate in the implementation of the Act.

"With these policies, rules and regulations, the Obama administration has weakened the Endangered Species Act more than any administration since the landmark law was passed in 1973," said Hartl.

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.

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