With little-noticed procedural and policy moves over several years, Bush administration officials have made it substantially more difficult to designate domestic animals and plants for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Controversies have occasionally flared over Interior Department officials who regularly overruled rank-and-file agency scientists' recommendations to list new species, but internal documents also suggest that pervasive bureaucratic obstacles were erected to limit the number of species protected under one of the nation's best-known environmental laws.
How bad is it?
During Bush's more than seven years as president, his administration has placed 59 domestic species on the endangered list, almost the exact number that his father listed during each of his four years in office. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne has not declared a single native species as threatened or endangered since he was appointed nearly two years ago.
And some species have vanished. The Lake Sammamish kokanee, a landlocked sockeye salmon, went extinct in 2001 after being denied an emergency listing, and genetically pure Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits disappeared last year after Interior declined to protect critical habitat for the species.
What sort of changes have allowed this lack of protection? Well, for one, they've decided that they no longer care about the animal's historical habitat, only its present one.
In another policy reversal, Interior's solicitor declared in a memo dated March 16, 2007, that when officials consider whether a significant portion of a species' range is in peril, that "phrase refers to the range in which a species currently exists, not to the historical range of the species where it once existed." The memo added that the Interior secretary "has broad discretion" in defining what is "significant."
They also have decided to consider the range of that animal's habitat outside the U.S. That might sound good at first, but really, this means that if an animal exists in Canada or Mexico, they don't care if it goes extinct in the U.S.:
In one such shift, senior Interior officials revised a longstanding policy that rated the threat to various species based primarily on their populations within U.S. borders. They then argued that species such as the wolverine and the jaguar do not need protection because they also exist in Canada or Mexico.
I think the worst part of it all is this:
In addition, the agency limited the information it used in ruling on the 90-day citizens' petitions that lead to most listings. In May 2005, Fish and Wildlife decreed that its files on proposed listings should include only evidence from the petitions and any information in agency records that could undercut, rather than support, a decision to list a species.
Unsigned notes handwritten on May 16, 2005, by an agency official, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, attributed the policy to Douglas Krofta, who heads the Endangered Species Program's listing branch. The notes said employees "can use info from files that refutes petitions but not anything that supports, per Doug."
Hall said the agency abandoned that policy in late 2006, but he issued a memo in June 2006 that mirrors elements of it, stating, "The information within the Service's files is not to be used to augment a 'weak' petition."
How's that for political interference with science?