Under Bush, no endangered species need apply
Protective listing for endangered species have dropped dramatically in the last seven years.
Hawaii, which has more endangered species per square mile than any other place on Earth, should be concerned that federal agencies entrusted to protect rare plants and animals aren't doing their jobs.
It comes as no surprise that protection has slackened under the eco-unfriendly administration of President Bush, but the extent of retreat is astonishing.
In the past seven years, only 59 domestic species have been placed on the endangered list, just one more than the average tallied by Bush's father in each of his four years in office and three less than President Bill Clinton's yearly average. In the last two years, no native species has been listed as threatened or endangered, according to a review by the Washington Post.
This dubious achievement was accomplished not by seeking straightforward amendments of the Endangered Species Act, but through shifts in procedures and long-standing policies.
The administration, which often disregards scientific recommendations and data when they conflict with its goals, also installed internal rules to block listings.
For example, the Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees the program, decided that if it identified a species for potential listing, citizens would not be allowed to file petitions for the same. Because petitions trigger a legal deadline for the agency to accept or reject a species, the plant or animal would fall into a limbo of delays. This continued for two years until a federal judge realized the tactic let the agency off the hook and overturned the policy.
Another new policy had Fish and Wildlife limiting information used in decisions on citizens' petitions to evidence that did not support a listing; anything that could aid a listing was not to be applied. The agency claims it dropped that policy, but it reinstated it later with different wording.
Officials changed habitat protection evaluations to ignore a species' historical range and to consider only
areas where its smaller numbers currently exist, a departure that restricts recovery, but releases developers and landowners from regulations.
Officials contend that lawsuits slowed work and, indeed, 369 lawsuits involving the listings were filed against the Bush administration, more than double the number for the previous one. But the suits largely arose from obstacles the administration put up.
In a case from Hawaii, endangered listing for 12 picture-wing flies was first proposed in 2001. A lawsuit finally prodded the government to act in 2006, four years after its deadline. When habitats for the flies were established, however, it was discovered that pressure from a political appointee forced agency scientists to alter findings to minimize ranges to 18 acres.
The appointee resigned last year and the flies' habitat designation is being reconsidered. That gives them a better chance for survival, unlike two other species awaiting protections that are believed to have gone extinct on Bush's watch.