Gutting the ESA

Salon reviews a draft of changes to regulations implementing the Endangered Species Act. The major shift is towards greater state control (as opposed to federal control) over the process, a shift that’s been a key element of Republican attempts to gut the Act for decades. Salon explains other changes:

Written in terse, dry legal language, the proposed draft doesn’t make for easy reading. However, the changes, often seemingly subtle, generally serve to strip the Fish and Wildlife Service of the power to do its stated job: to protect wildlife. Some verge on the biologically ridiculous, say critics, while others are a clear concession to industry and conservative Western governors who have long complained that the act degrades the economies of their states by preventing natural-resource extraction.

One change would significantly limit the number of species eligible for endangered status. Currently, if a species is likely to become extinct in “the foreseeable future” — a species-specific timeframe that can stretch up to 300 years — it’s a candidate for act protections. However, the new rules scale back that timeline to mean either 20 years or 10 generations (the agency can choose which timeline). For certain species with long life spans, such as killer whales, grizzly bears or wolves, two decades isn’t even one generation. So even if they might be in danger of extinction, they would not make the endangered species list because they’d be unlikely to die out in two decades.

That change is very subtle, and sorting through the draft is tricky because the changes occur in such circuitous ways. In this instance, a definition is shifted

“Foreseeable future” means 10 generations or 20 years, at the discretion of the Service, unless specified otherwise in a determination made pursuant to Section 4.

Which is used in this definition:

“In danger of extinction” means currently subject to threats (singly or in combination) that, if left unmitigated, are reasonably certain to lead to extirpation of the species in the wild in the foreseeable future.

Which, in turn, modifies this definition:

“Endangered species” means a species that is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

Earlier versions didn’t seem to feel compelled to define “in danger of extinction” or “foreseeable future,” which left the issue to be decided on a more case-by-case basis.

I’ll be sorting through this some more and discuss these proposals more in days to come.


  1. #1 Fastlane
    March 28, 2007

    I have a question about this, Josh. (And I admit, I haven’t gone to the Salon article yet, so feel free to tell me I need to do that if the answer is there).

    Is this being driven by the new Democraticly controlled legislature, or is this an enforcement issue that is being pushed by the administration, or from within the Dept. of Interior somewhere?

    Positive environmentalism seems to be one of the few things the Democratic party is fairly consistent on, at least in thier speeches. This surprises me.


  2. #2 Josh
    March 28, 2007

    This is an administrative process. Regulations describe how the executive branch implements a law.

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