Cutting back on take limits could put more plants and animals at risk of extinction
By Summit Voice
FRISCO —Watchdog groups are warning that a proposal to weaken endangered species standards could put some plants and animals at greater risk of extinction.
The new rule would scale back the requirement that federal agencies fully track impacts to endangered species under broad programmatic environmental studies. Cumulative impacts on rare species from actions like oil and gas drilling would be discounted in the decision-making process, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
The change is being proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, both agencies have repeatedly failed to track how the projects they approve are affecting rare and vanishing species.
“America’s endangered species are already dying deaths by a thousand cuts, because too often no one’s keeping an eye on the big picture,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This proposal will make that problem even worse.”
Under the Endangered Species Act, wildlife agencies must develop an “incidental take statement” that sets an upper limit on the amount of permitted harm that a federal agency may inflict on an endangered species. This statement is the key provision ensuring that agency-approved actions don’t jeopardize protected species.
Under the proposed rule, the agencies wouldn’t have to set numerical limits on take in programmatic studies for national forest plans, oil and gas leasing, and general permits for development issued under the Clean Water Act.
That could create a huge loophole in endangered species protections.
“Our wildlife agencies should be working on stronger and more sophisticated mechanisms to understand and track harms that occur at these sweeping, landscape scales,” Hartl said. “Instead they’re just walking away from the challenge — and endangered species will suffer.”
In 2009 the Government Accountability Office concluded that the Fish and Wildlife Service’s tracking of the harm it allows to endangered species “lacks a systematic method for tracking cumulative take of most listed species.”
The GAO report noted that the agency only had such a system for three out of 497 federal protected species in the western states. Instead of addressing the problem and requiring tracking by the federal agencies, the proposed rule essentially tells the agencies not to worry about the cumulative harm caused by multiple actions within their jurisdictions.
Filed under: biodiversity, endangered species, Environment Tagged: | biodiversity, Center for Biological Diversity, endangered species, endangered species act, NEPA, United States Fish and Wildlife Service