Obama Slow on Endangered Species?

  • The Piping Plover is on the Endangered Species List.Critics say there's not enough being done to protect endangered species. (Photo courtesy of the USFWS)

An environmental group is threatening to sue the US government for dragging its feet on endangered species protection. Samara Freemark has the story:

Transcript

An environmental group is threatening to sue the US government for dragging its feet on endangered species protection. Samara Freemark has the story.

The Center for Biological Diversity says the government has missed deadlines to rule on whether 100 44 species belong on the endangered species list.

The Center says they’ll sue the Obama administration if the government doesn’t pick up the pace.

Noah Greenwald is with the Center. He says that under the Clin-ton administration, about 65 species were listed as ‘endangered’ every year. That slowed dramatically under Bush and Obama.

The Obama administration doesn’t share the ideological opposition that the Bush administration had to protecting endangered species. But on the other hand, the Obama administration hasn’t made the Endangered Species Act a priority.

So far, the Obama administration has only placed two species on the Endangered Species List. Without protection, some species are in danger of being wiped out.

For the Environment Report, I’m Samara Freemark.

Related Links

White House Weakening Endangered Species Act?

  • Environmentalists warn the Endangered Species Act is in danger during the last months of the Bush Administration (Photo courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service)

The Bush administration is making a proposal that environmentalists

say will weaken the Endangered Species Act. The proposal would eliminate a

requirement for independent review of big federal projects such as highways,

bridges or dams. Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

The Bush administration is making a proposal that environmentalists

say will weaken the Endangered Species Act. The proposal would eliminate a

requirement for independent review of big federal projects such as highways,

bridges or dams. Lester Graham reports:

Right now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service
reviews anything like that that could harm endangered species.

The Secretary of the Interior says the existing regulations create unnecessary conflicts
between agencies and delays on important projects.

The new proposal would let the agency in charge of construction decide for itself if the
project would affect an endangered species.

Bob Irvin is with the environmental group, the Defenders of Wildlife. He says this
proposal eliminates safeguards.

“Previously the Fish and Wildlife Service had a role in reviewing the impacts of those
actions. So, literally, what the administration is proposing is to put the fox in charge of
the chicken coop.”

That’s not the way the Department of Interior sees it.

Kaush Arha is a Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Department of Interior. He took
issue with the fox in charge of the chicken coop metaphor.

“I think that’s an exaggerated statement. And it is unfounded hyperbole. What you are
referring to as “fox” in that particular issue are very, very well qualified, very well
respected and dedicated natural resource management agencies like the U.S. Forest
Service, like Bureau of Land Management, Army Corps of Engineers and others.”

But, no matter how dedicated those wildlife officials are, the Bush administration has a
reputation of putting political pressure on scientists in several agencies, and science
has been changed or rigged in favor of industry.

But the Interior Department says the agencies operate within a political environment.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Arha says, besides, the agencies already make decisions
about federal projects and the Endangered Species Act this way. The proposed
changes would just make current practices clearer for the agencies without completely
overhauling the procedures.

“This captures the existing practices, clarifies and gives more direction and it is narrowly
tailored to do so.”

Environmentalists such as Bob Irvin see something much more sinister than the
administration making things clearer for the different agencies affected by the
Endangered Species Act.

“With barely five months left in the administration, they’re trying to ram through a
proposal to weaken the Endangered Species Act. This is completely in keeping with the
anti-environmental record of this administration. But it is also completely outrageous.”

Environmental groups likely will end up taking the issue to court. The Bush
Environmental Protection Agency tried a similar attempt to by-pass independent
review. The federal courts struck that effort down.

For The Environment Report, this is Lester Graham.

Related Links

Is Endangered Species Act Endangered?

  • The piping plover is a tiny bird, about the size of a parakeet. (Photo courtesy of the USFWS)

The Endangered Species Act protects plants and animals that are on the brink of extinction. The American Bald Eagle and the Timber Wolf are examples of animals that have recovered because of the Act. But, some conservative members of Congress think the Endangered Species Act goes too far. They say the law often stands in the way of economic progress and private property rights. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush has this story:

Transcript

The Endangered Species Act protects plants and animals that are on the brink
of extinction. The American Bald eagle and the Timber wolf are examples of
animals that have recovered because of the Act. But some conservative
members of Congress think the Endangered Species Act goes too far. They say
the law often stands in the way of economic progress and private property
rights. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush has this story:


(Sound of shoreline and low peeps of the plover)


The piping plover is a tiny little bird. It’s not much bigger than a parakeet. This plover scurries around on the beach. It’s making a distress call and showing a broken wing display because it’s
nervous about a group of people building a cage around its nest.


(Sound of metal cage rattling)


But the people are here to help; they’re trying to protect its nest. Plovers build their nests out of little round stones right on the beach. Amanda Brushaber is a biological technician with the National Park Service. She’s leading a group of volunteers who are working to save this rare little bird.


“Right now, we’re exclosing the nests that have eggs in them. The
exclosures keep the predators out, and keep the birds of prey out, so that
the eggs have a chance of making it to hatch, which takes 28 days.”


These birds are getting help because they were put on the Endangered Species
List back in 1986. At one point there were only eleven breeding pairs left in the Great Lakes
region. The birds like wide sandy beaches that have strips of stones and cobble.


But these shorelines have been under a lot of development pressure. And with more buildings and more people on the beaches, the bird’s had a tough time surviving.


The piping plover is just one of the more than 1,800 plants and animals that
are protected by the Endangered Species Act. The Act has been around for more than thirty years. It’s considered the strongest law in the world in protecting endangered
plants and animals, and for the most part, it’s remained unchanged since it was first passed.


But some members of Congress think the Endangered Species Act goes too far. They say enforcement of the Act is often heavy handed to the point that it’s an abuse of federal power.


California Congressman Richard Pombo chairs the House Committee on
Resources. He’s a vocal critic of the Act. Brian Kennedy is a spokesperson for Congressman Pombo and his Committee. He says the Congressman’s constituents are afraid of finding an endangered
species on their land because it could limit how they use their land.


“In other words, if the federal government finds an endangered species on a
fraction of an individual’s private property, he loses the use of that
property and then when that individual goes to sell it, it is worth less
than it would be otherwise.”


Private property advocates say they want owners compensated for this loss. Otherwise they say their rights to their land are being taken away. They refer to this loss as a ‘taking.’ But people who enforce the Act say there’s a lot of misunderstanding about
what it means.


Jack Dingledine is a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He says they work closely with landowners to make sure a development won’t harm a protected species.


“If a landowner finds an endangered species on their property, they do have
an obligation not to harm the species when it’s there. It doesn’t mean that
we’re going to close beaches, and we don’t seize people’s property, but we
would ask that they consider any actions that might harm the species.”


Harming a species includes damaging the place where it lives – even if that
habitat is on privately owned land. And this is what makes private property advocates bristle. They see this as an infringement on their rights to do whatever they want
with their land.


Several bills are being developed that would change the way the Act is
implemented. The sponsors of these bills say the changes they want to make to the
Endangered Species Act will be an improvement.


But supporters of the Act say these bills do nothing to improve the law. Kieran Suckling is with the Center for Biological Diversity. He says these critics of the Endangered Species Act are hiding their true
agenda.


“Down the line, these are all industry sponsored bills that have no purpose
other than to get rid of environmental protection to benefit industry,
period. They can spin it any way they want, but at the end of the day, that’s
what their bill says.”


Supporters of the Endangered Species Act are troubled by the way Congress
has changed its tune. When the Act was first passed 32 years ago, Congress voted for it by a 355
to 4 margin. The law was extremely popular because there was a sense of urgency about
protecting endangered plants and animals.


Many environmentalists are concerned that if the Endangered Species Act is
weakened now, we’ll see more wildlife wiped out of existence.


For the GLRC, I’m Mark Brush.

Related Links

Study: Endangered Species Act a Success

Republican lawmakers have criticized the Endangered Species Act as an outdated law that does little to protect endangered plants and animals. Now researchers have published a new study that they say shows the Endangered Species Act does work. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush has more:

Transcript

Republican lawmakers have criticized the Endangered Species Act as
an outdated law that does little to protect endangered plants and
animals. Now researchers have published a new study that they say
shows the Endangered Species Act does work. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush has more:

Researchers looked at data on the more than one thousand plants and
animals on the Endangered Species List. They found that the longer a
species is on the List the more likely it is to be classified as
improving. Kieran Suckling co-authored the study published in the
journal BioScience. He says the study shows endangered
species are better off when their habitat is protected:


“And that might sound obvious because habitat protection is
obviously good for species, but in fact that’s one of our more
controversial conclusions because the Bush administration that critical
habitat designation does not benefit species and we were able to show
that in fact it does.”

The Bush Administration has proposed that critical habitat for
endangered species be limited to the land where the plant or animal is
currently found. Some environmentalists fear this is the first move in
the administration’s attempt to dismantle the Endangered Species Act.

For the GLRC, I’m Mark Brush.

Related Links

Cost of Taking Eagle Off Endangered Species List

  • The American Bald Eagle has made a remarkable recovery. It's done so well, it might soon be taken off the Endangered Species list. (Photo courtesy of USFWS)

With more than 7600 breeding pairs in the continental United States alone, the American Bald Eagle has made a remarkable comeback. A new proposal to remove the bird from the Endangered Species list is expected soon. But that means removing a powerful safety net that can affect future research, monitoring and habitat protection. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sally Eisele reports:

Transcript

With more than 7600 breeding pairs in the continental United States alone, the
American Bald Eagle has made a remarkable comeback. A new proposal to remove the
bird from the Endangered Species list is expected soon. But that means removing a
powerful safety net that can affect future research, monitoring and habitat protection.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sally Eisele reports:


In the history of the Endangered Species Act, only a dozen or so of the more than 1200
plants and animals listed as threatened or endangered have actually recovered. The eagle
may be the latest to join that little group.


(Young birder: “I see a big birdie…”)


This is a pretty unlikely spot for an eagle — a manmade wetland by a landfill in a busy
airport flight path on the outskirts of Detroit. But state wildlife biologist Joe Robison
shows this young visitor the bulky nest across the marsh where two adult birds are
teaching their gangly fledglings to fly.


“Something just landed in the tree out there. Oh. That’s the other juvenile. This is the
first time I’ve seen them flying this year. They look like they’re flying good though.”


These birds are among more than 400 pairs in Michigan monitored by state and federal
wildlife officials. The eagles are banded, the nests are watched and when a bird dies it
ends up in the freezer of wildlife pathologist Tom Cooley.


(sound of Cooley opening the freezer)


“Lots and lots of ’em. You can see that one was a road kill along I-75…”


Right now, Cooley’s freezer is brim full of dead birds stacked like frozen Thanksgiving
turkeys in plastic bags. Road kill has become the leading cause of death among eagles
he examines, but Cooley says they still investigate suspicious looking deaths for the
heavy metals and pesticides—like DDT—which once caused the eagles’ demise.


“Birds that kind of send up a red flag to us are adult birds that are in poor condition and
you don’t see a reason why they could be in poor condition. Those are the ones that we
especially look at for pesticide analysis because there are still the organochlorines out
there. The DDTs are still picked up by eagles or still contained in eagles. Those
pesticides can cause real problems for them and actually kill them.”


Cooley sends tissue samples to another state lab for analysis. But the testing is
expensive. And with the eagle on the way to recovery, it’s not as urgent. Right now, he
says all the samples he sends are being archived—shelved basically. That means the
testing won’t be done until the money is available.


“I never like archiving anything if I can help it. You’re probably not missing anything
but that kind of data is always nice to have if you can get it right away and look at it right
away.”


The question is, if it’s hard to get funding for monitoring and testing now—while the bird
is still on the Endangered Species List—what happens when it’s taken off the list? The
reality, say state and federal wildlife experts, is that budget priorities change as a species
recovers. Ray Rustem heads Michigan’s non-game wildlife program.


“There’s not enough money for every species. So you try to take a species to a level
where you feel comfortable with and you take money and apply it to another species to
try to recover.”


The federal Endangered Species Act requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to monitor
what it terms a delisted species for five years. After that, responsibility largely shifts to
the states. That concerns groups like the National Wildlife Federation. Attorney John
Kostyak questions whether states can really afford to protect fragile species and their
habitat over the long term.


“That’s going to be an issue with any delisting. A tough question that we’re going to
always be asking is: all right assume you go forward with delisting—how are you going
to be sure the species doesn’t turn right around and go back toward extinction again?”


With some species, that means habitat management. With others, like the recovering
gray wolf, it means public education—teaching people not to kill them. With the eagle, it
means ensuring that the birds are not threatened by the pesticides, heavy metals and
newer chemicals that contaminate the fish the eagles eat. Because of the bird’s
importance as an indicator species, Fish and Wildlife biologists are hopeful banding and
testing programs will continue after delisting. But it will likely mean finding new ways
to pay for them.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Sally Eisele.

Related Links

Bald Eagle to Be De-Listed?

America’s bald eagle population has grown dramatically in the
past few years. States around the Great Lakes region will be counting
their bald eagle populations to determine if they should be removed from
the federal endangered species list. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Marisa Helms reports:

Transcript

America’s bald eagle population has grown dramatically in the past few years.
States around the Great Lakes Region will be counting their bald eagle
populations to determine if they should be removed from the federal endangered
species list. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Marisa Helms
reports:


This spring, states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota will survey
bald eagles to see if the numbers are high enough to warrant de-listing.
All three states have seen a strong comeback of the raptor. Pam Perry is
with Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources. She says she expects to find
more than 700 nesting pairs in Minnesota.


“The population increase is due to the fact that we’ve gotten DDT out
of the system so that is no longer affecting their reproduction. And there used
to be a problem with people shooting eagles and we see that very seldom
anymore.”


States will finish their surveys by July and submit their recommendation
to the U-S Fish and Wildlife Service. If the bird goes off the list, the bald eagle
will still be protected by the Bald Eagle Protection Act and the Federal Migratory
Bird Act.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Marisa Helms.

Biologist Fosters Bald Eagle’s Return

In the 1960’s, the bald eagle was in trouble. There were only about 4
hundred birds living in the U-S And in some states, pollution had wiped
them out altogether. But the bald eagle has made an impressive comeback.
The U-S Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced plans to remove it from
the endangered species list. As the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen
Kelly reports, it’s good news for the scientists who fought to save this
bird:

Peter Raven-Accounting for Bio-Diversity

Time Magazine recently profiled people it considered to be "Heroes of the
Planet" for their environmental work. Among them was the Director of the
Missouri Botanical Garden, Peter Raven. Raven works with groups in
developing nations to help them preserve the biological diversity of their
countries. In the final of a series of interviews… the Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Lester Graham talked to Raven about his work… and how it
balances with domestic efforts to preserve natural areas: