WASHINGTON Bears, birds and other creatures
could be put at greater risk under proposed Bush administration
changes to the Endangered Species Act, according to a U.S.
government document released on Tuesday by environmentalists.
The proposed rewrite to the landmark law that protects
American wildlife would weaken the act so much that about 80
percent of the 1,300 species now on the endangered list would
lose protection, said Kieran Suckling of the Center for
"Efforts to restore the California condor into new states
would be stopped under these regulations," Suckling said in a
telephone interview from Tucson, Arizona. "Efforts to
reintroduce grizzly bears to new areas would be stopped ...
This suite of regulations rewrites the Endangered Species Act
from top to bottom."
Hugh Vickery, a spokesman for the Interior Department,
which helps administer the act, said the document was "very
obsolete" and "does not represent the latest thinking" of the
administration on this issue. He said any formal proposal would
be published in the Federal Register and debated publicly.
But Jan Hasselman, an attorney for the environmental group
Earthjustice, said notations in the document -- available
online here --
indicate changes made as recently as mid-February.
"If this is no longer the thing that they are working on,
it's clear that they were working on it very, very recently,"
Hasselman said by telephone from Seattle.
The document was made available by the Center for
Biological Diversity and Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility. An article based on the document was issued
late on Monday by the online magazine Salon.com.
GETTING AROUND CONGRESS?
Daniel Patterson of the public employees' group said the
proposed regulations would give the states more discretion in
enforcing the law on endangered species, which he said was a
change previously and unsuccessfully sought by some in
"One of the main reasons the Endangered Species Act was
created as a national law is because states were not protecting
and recovering endangered species," Patterson said. "States are
more influenced by political pressure, and many states do not
even have even basic protections for whistle-blowers, people
that would be trying to ensure that the law was followed."
The environmental groups said the proposed new regulations
would: allow damaging projects to go ahead even after they have
been shown to threaten species with extinction; limit the
listing of new endangered species; allow states to take over
critical functions such as listing species, overseeing federal
agencies and issuing habitat conservation plans.
Suckling and others called the proposed changes an attempt
to get around Congress, which would be unlikely to approve
The Interior Department's Vickery denied this.
"The government can't unilaterally rewrite the Endangered
Species Act," Vickery said by telephone. "That's Congress'
He said the draft document represented early thinking among
government staff members and was no longer current. He said
Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne had held "listening
sessions" on this and other topics since taking his job in May
Vickery confirmed that the Bush administration favored
working with the states on such matters as the Endangered
Species Act, which he said "carves out ... a large role for the
states that in some ways has been neglected or ignored."