Watchdog group keeps door open for endangered species petitions

Two of the five lynx dens documented this spring by CDOW are in Summit County. PHOTO BY TANYA SHENK, COLORADO DIVISION OF WILDLIFE.
Two of the five lynx dens documented this spring by CDOW are in Summit County. Photo by Tanya Shenk/Colorado Division of Wildlife.

Feds dial back proposed regs that would have made it harder to seek endangered species protection

Staff Report

Many plants and animals that are protected as endangered species in the U.S. got that status because conservation groups — representing concerned citizens — petitioned the federal government. It’s a process that’s explicitly mandated by the Endangered Species Act, but that has led to serious frustration among government biocrats and various extractive industries that specialize in exploiting public land resources.

In an attempt to try and cripple citizen groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently proposed making the petitioning process much more difficult by requiring pre-clearance from state agencies and limiting petitions to a single species. All in all, the proposal was aimed at trying to avoid giving protection to species that need it.

But this week, the federal government dialed back its proposal after conservation advocates pointed out that the regulatory change likely would have violated the the Paperwork Reduction Act , which prohibits the federal government from imposing undue paperwork burdens on individual citizens.

The letter was sent by the Center for Biological Diversity, a group that tirelessly works to uphold not just the letter, but the spirit of the Endangered Species Act.

Reacting to the latest move by the feds in the ongoing game of endangered species chess, the center’s endangered species policy director, Brett Hartl, said, “This special interest-driven proposal was designed to make it harder to get imperiled species the protections they desperately need under the Endangered Species Act. “Today’s changes reduce the damage, but this whole proposal should still be withdrawn. It purposefully places cumbersome burdens on the public to discourage their participation in protecting plants and animals.”

The 1995 Paperwork Reduction Act helps ensure that when an agency demands information from the public, it does so in the least-burdensome fashion. The law also requires that the public be given an opportunity to provide comment on any information-collection burden prior to its enactment.

But the proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act petition regulations failed to include any discussion of whether the proposal complied with the Paperwork Reduction Act — hardly an oversight, according to Hartl, who accused the USFWS of caving to special interests.

“The failure to comply with the Paperwork Reduction Act wasn’t a mistake or harmless error that can be glossed over — it was a deliberate end-run around the law,” Hartl said in a statement “It is completely implausible that the one time that the Services sought to impose an information-collection burden on the public, that it simply forgot to comply with this standard requirement. Every other regulation they have published over the past 20 years includes an evaluation and discussion of their compliance with this law.”

As it is, the listing process is already cumbersome. The filing of a petition triggers what is supposed to be a two year process, including three public comment periods, culminating in a listing or non-listing decision. But on average, the process ends up taking about 10 years. According to Hartl, more than 40 species having gone extinct while waiting for protection.



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