Land Management Changes Undermine Wildlife Conservation on Public Lands

December 18, 2008  2:35 PM

CONTACT: Center for Biological Diversity

Josh Pollock, Center for Native Ecosystems, (303) 546-0214
Megan Mueller, Center for Native Ecosystems, (303) 546-0214
Lisa Belenky, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 385-5594

Land Management Changes Undermine Wildlife Conservation on Public Lands; Yet Another Round of ‘Midnight Regulations’ Strips Wildlife and Endangered Species Protection Out of Agency’s Guidance Manual

DENVER-December 18. In another example of last-minute changes issued on the way out of office, the Bush administration has released final changes to a key policy manual for management of endangered, threatened, and other special-status species found on federal lands that would eliminate important protections currently given to the most at-risk wildlife and plants.

Among the sweeping changes to the Bureau of Land Management Special Status Species Manual are new policy directives that undermine protections for endangered and threatened plants, limit efforts to protect those species officially awaiting protection under the Endangered Species Act, make it prohibitively difficult to protect sensitive species found in multiple states, and eliminate some protections for state-protected species found on federal lands.

“This short-sighted policy change eliminates wildlife protections 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, executive director of the Center for Native Ecosystems.

The changes to the Bureau of Land Management’s manual weaken the agency’s commitment to keeping some populations of rare species from falling so low that they require the protection of the Endangered Species Act to prevent extinction. The changes eliminate protections for species listed as threatened or endangered by a state but not separately recognized by the federal government. Often, state-level recognition of threatened or endangered species helps to activate conservation measures before a species declines to the point of needing more stringent regulatory intervention.

“Failing to conserve state-recognized species undoes the good work the states have started and could lead to more listings under the Endangered Species Act,” said Megan Mueller, staff biologist with the Center for Native Ecosystems.

In Colorado, 35 species, including kit fox, swift fox, river otters, sandhill cranes, and burrowing owls, would lose protection under this provision of the agency’s policy manual.

In California, hundreds of State listed species could loose protection on federal public lands including the wolverine and the Great grey owl.

The manual also allows the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, to hand over large parts of the Endangered Species Act consultation process to the industries whose activities are affecting public lands and species habitats. This change is in keeping with a damaging new change to Endangered Species Act regulations just pushed through last week by Interior Department appointees, despite massive public and congressional opposition.

“This is one more Bush giveaway of public resources to industry on their way out the door,” said Lisa Belenky, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Having industry conduct informal consultations and write the biological assessments for their own projects is asking the fox to guard the henhouse; it is irresponsible and foolish.”

In a rare but telling move, the manual changes includes citations to several court cases in which BLM avoided obligations under the Endangered Species Act. Though not a common addition to BLM’s operating manuals, these citations seem designed to provide federal land managers with justification for scaling back their protective efforts on behalf of at-risk wildlife and plants.

“BLM is stuck in the past; the new manual does not even mention global climate change which is an overarching threat to wildlife and plants that depend on our public lands for survival,” Belenky said. “Although the management manual does not have the force of law, it directs BLM staff to limit conservation efforts rather than to preserve public lands resources for future generations.”

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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