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AnimalsEndangered SpeciesPolicies & Politics

Obama Endangered Species Work in Low Gear

Plains Buffalo in Grand Teton National Park, on the Endangered Species Waiting List

The Obama administration recently set aside a great deal of “critical habitat” for polar bears along Alaska’s north coast, but taking a broader look at the work it has done with regards to endangered species brings a lot of disappointment. The Clinton administration provided Endangered Species Act protection to an average of 65 species a year, while the Obama administration is only at a rate of 25 a year. It is more than the Bush administration’s 8 a year, but it definitely leaves something to be desired.

251 species are sitting in line as candidates for endangered species protection at the moment, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service, some of which have been sitting in line for decades. Furthermore, at least 24 species have gone extinct while sitting in that line.

“Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration is failing to provide prompt protection to wildlife desperately in need of protection,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Greenwald said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has failed to correct a longtime ‘culture of delay and foot-dragging’ at the Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees the endangered species program,” Matthew Daly of The Huffington Post reports. “The agency has been without a permanent director since February, when former director Sam Hamilton died. All but one of the service’s eight regional directors are holdovers from the Bush administration.”

On the positive side, the Obama administration has reportedly done a lot to fix systemic problems left by the Bush administration.

[Tom Strickland, assistant Interior secretary for fish, wildlife and parks], who also serves as Salazar’s chief of staff, said the Obama administration has taken steps to restore credibility to the endangered species program, which he said had been damaged under the previous administration.

First, Salazar directed that listing decisions be based on science rather than politics, in response to a scandal involving Julie MacDonald, a former Bush official who was found to have exerted improper political interference on range of endangered species decisions.

Second, the department reinstated 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.

Things to be thankful for, but also a lot that could be better.

Read more on The Huffington Post: Obama Endangered Species Agenda Not Moving Quickly, Critics Say.

Related articles:
1. Are Polar Bears “Threatened” or “Endangered”? U.S. Judge Pushing Obama Administration to Clarify
2. 1/5 of Animals Facing Extinction: Mass Extinction is Here
3. U.S. and Andorra Only Two Countries Not at Convention of Biodiversity

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Photo Credit: Eric Vondy via flickr (CC license)




2 comments
  1. David in Washington State

    Oh please. As a threshold matter, you undermine your credibility on ESA issues when you describe the designation of critical habitat as “setting it aside.” Critical habitat designation doesn’t “set aside” anything.

    But on your main point, the rate at which listing work is accomplished might have been a proper indictment against the Bush administration. But the present fact is that the ESA agencies are dealing with structural issues after eight years under the Bush administration, and doing very well at it.

    Besides, changes in the rate at which species are listed can also be attributed to a much greater degree to a more highly-tuned community of listing-opponents who learned much in the way of opposition in the rulemaking process and litigation from their experiences in the 1990’s, the time at which you suggest so many species were being listed.

    There are far better measures of accomplishment in the management of listed species, but if you rely on the SW Center for Biodiversity as a prime source for stories like this one, you’re unlikely to ever realize them.

    1. Zachary Shahan

      @David: Thanks for your extra comments. Yes, the structural changes are big and i think i give them due diligence in the report. i understand that there are forces that have evolved to oppose ESA designations. nonetheless, i think the rate of designations is too low

      thank you for your own opinion on the matter, though

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