Bush Administration Attempts to Undermine Wildlife Conservation on Public Lands: Sweeping Policy Changes Proposed Behind Closed Doors

June 4, 2008
3:07 PM

CONTACT: Center for Biological Diversity
Lisa Belenky, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 385-5694
Josh Pollock, Center for Native Ecosystems, (303) 546-0214 x 1

Bush Administration Attempts to Undermine Wildlife Conservation on Public Lands:
Sweeping Policy Changes Proposed Behind Closed Doors

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – June 4 – Acting behind closed doors, the Bush administration is rewriting a key policy manual for management of endangered, threatened, and other special-status species found on federal lands that would eliminate key protections currently given to the most at-risk wildlife and plants.

Among the sweeping changes proposed to the Bureau of Land Management Special Status Species Manual are new policy directives that would undermine protections for endangered and threatened plants, limit efforts to protect those species officially awaiting protection under the Endangered Species Act, allow the Bureau of Land Management to sell or trade public lands designated as critical habitat, and eliminate some protections for state-protected species found on federal lands.

“These changes are a cynical attempt to undermine conservation on our public lands,” said Lisa Belenky, staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Last month the Bush administration claimed it would not push through last-minute regulatory changes without full public review, but at the same time they were working behind the scenes to erode protections for imperiled species on public lands through changes in the management manual.”

The policy changes would eliminate the requirement that the Bureau of Land Management treat all species identified as threatened or endangered by the states as BLM “sensitive species,” which are managed for conservation. In western states with large areas of federal public lands, this change could significantly undermine state conservation efforts.

“The Bush administration’s short-sighted proposal would eliminate the BLM’s guidelines to conserve at-risk species on public lands at the very time when proactive management is most likely to be effective — before they decline to the point that they need to be listed under the Endangered Species Act,” said Josh Pollock, interim executive director at the Center for Native Ecosystems. “Failing to conserve state-recognized species undoes the good work the states have started.”

For endangered and threatened plants protected under the Endangered Species Act, the Bureau would look only at impacts that were harmful at the “population level” under the proposed policy changes, contradicting the Fish and Wildlife Service’s practice of looking at all impacts to listed plant species.

“How is the BLM going to fulfill its responsibility to not push already endangered species further toward extinction?” said Josh Pollock. “BLM needs to focus on recovering these species rather than trying to get around its current obligations to conserve them.”

The changes would drastically reduce oversight of Bureau of Land Management projects that impact species proposed for Endangered Species Act listing by raising the bar for review by the Fish and Wildlife Service. For candidate species, those species that the Fish and Wildlife Service has found warrant listing but has not yet protected, the changes would entirely eliminate all review by the Fish and Wildlife Service. Eliminating review of Bureau projects would make it far more difficult for the Fish and Wildlife Service to keep track of new impacts to candidate species on public lands, result in far less protection, and could push candidate species closer to extinction while waiting to gain protections under the Act.

The proposed changes would also allow some industry applicants for use of federal lands to prepare their own environmental analyses and conduct informal consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service in lieu of the Bureau of Land Management staff, thus eliminating a critical layer of independent oversight of industry activities on public land.

“This is part of the Bush administration’s drive to privatize public land management and promote industrial exploitation of public lands resources for the profit of a few,” said Lisa Belenky. “These changes would direct BLM staff to limit conservation efforts on public lands rather than ensure that wildlife and rare plants are conserved for future generations.”


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