November 26, 2010

Obama Administration Failing Endangered Species

The Obama administration is being criticized by environmental groups for not doing enough to save the growing accumulation of plants and animals that are need of protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service says there are currently 251 candidates for endangered species status, four more than a similar review found last year.

Environmental groups say the evidence shows the Obama administration has done little to improve on the growing number of endangered species.

Since taking office in January 2009, Obama has given Endangered Species Act protection to 51 plant and animal species - an average of 25 per year. The Clinton administration protected an average of 65 species per year from 1993 to 2000. But, the Bush administration only listed about 8 species per year.

"Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration is failing to provide prompt protection to wildlife desperately in need of protection," including the plains bison, sage grouse and hundreds of other species, Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, told the Associated Press (AP).

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has failed to correct a longtime "culture of delay and foot-dragging" at the Fish and Wildlife Service, said Greenwald.

The agency, which oversees the endangered species program, has been without a permanent director since February, when former director Sam Hamilton died.

Tom Strickland, assistant Interior secretary for fish, wildlife and parks, has compared the growing backlog of species to a list of schools that need repairing. "We know what we need to do. We don't have the resources to do it all at once," he said.

Many of the listed candidates for protection have been waiting for such a designation for decades, which includes the Oregon spotted frog, found in three West Coast states, and the Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake, found in 9 Midwest and great Lakes states. The frog has been on the list since 1991, and the snake has been backlogged since 1982.

"Species on the candidate list continue to deteriorate while waiting for care," Bob Irvin, senior vice president for conservation at Defenders of Wildlife, told AP. Irvin compared the list to patients waiting for healthcare. "The 251 species now under consideration for federal protection are glaring reminders that we can and should do more to safeguard our valuable natural resources."

Candidates on the list get no formal protection. The designation only raises awareness among private landowners and federal land managers that the species need help, said officials.

Delays can have irreversible consequences. At least 24 species on the list have gone extinct while waiting for protected status, including the Louisiana prairie vole, Tacoma pocket gopher and San Gabriel Mountains blue butterfly, as well as numerous Hawaiian invertebrates.

Currently, a total of 793 plants and 578 animals are listed as threatened or endangered in the United States, including 83 mammal and 139 fish species.

Strickland believes it was unfair to evaluate the program based on how many species are listed each year. Some species are in greater danger than others. "We make judgments based on limited resources, but also the peril with which the species is faced," he said, noting that several species have jumped onto the protected list when they faced an imminent threat.

Strickland said the Obama administration has taken steps to restore credibility to the endangered species program, which he said had been damaged under George W. Bush's administration.

Interior Secretary Salazar directed that listing decisions be based on science and not politics, in response to a scandal involving Julie MacDonald, a former Bush administration official who was found to have exerted improper political interference on range of endangered species decisions.

Salazar then pushed to reinstate a rule -- dropped by the Bush administration -- requiring government agencies to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service on actions that could affect endangered species.


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