FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 6, 2003
AGENCY REPORTS TO CONGRESS CONTRADICT BUSH ADMINISTRATION’S ANTI-ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT CLAIMS
U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE REPORTS SHOW THAT CRITICAL HABITAT ENHANCES RECOVERY OF ENDANGERED SPECIES
BUSH ADMINISTRATION HAS REPEATEDLY CLAIMED THAT CRITICAL HABITAT IS OF NO VALUE, EVIDENCE OF BROKEN ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT
Long-delayed reports to Congress by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service show that species with critical habitat are twice as likely to be improving as species without it. The reports contradict the Bush administration’s vigorous claims that the Endangered Species Act is “broken” and that critical habit is of no value and can even harm endangered species.
“The Bush administration has made habit of suppressing, delaying, doctoring, and ignoring scientific research.” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “It has never presented any data to support the dubious assertion that critical habitat does not help endangered species, just worn out legal theories. The Fish and Wildlife Service’s own data show that critical habitat works.”
The Bush administration has opposed the designation of critical habitat areas because of their power to protect large landscapes rather than just individual species. Critical habitats have protected oceans from over-fishing in Alaska, deserts from mining and off-road vehicles in California, and rivers from livestock grazing in Arizona and New Mexico. A public relations, budgetary, and legal campaign against critical habitat has been the centerpiece of the administration’s anti-Endangered Species Act agency.
But on June 13, 2003, while the administration officials were denouncing critical habitat, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service quietly submitted two reports to Congress classifying all endangered species as having or not having critical habitat and as having populations which are declining, stable, or improving. While the Department of Interior and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service websites have prominently declared since May 28, 2003 that critical habitat is of no value, there was no public announcement or distribution of the Wildlife Service reports.
Dr. Jeffrey Rachlinski of Cornell University and Dr. Martin Taylor of the Center for Biological Diversity analyzed the data in the two Fish and Wildlife Service reports and one which preceded them in 1999.
In the two most recent reports, species with critical habitat were more than twice as likely to be improving as species without. In the 1999 report, they were nearly twice as likely to be improving. Drs. Rachlinski and Taylor were careful to separate the independent effects of critical habitat, recovery plans, and other benefits of being on the endangered species list. When these factors were distinguished, species with critical habitat were still nearly twice as likely to be improving as species without critical habitat.
"The data are clear. There is no question that species with critical habitat are more likely to be recovering than species without,” said Dr. Rachlinski. "Habitat loss is the greatest threat to endangered species. It shouldn't come as a surprise that species with critical habitat are twice as likely to be recovering as species without it."
Dr. Rachlinski published a peer-reviewed paper in 1997 analyzing an earlier U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report to Congress. It also showed that critical habitat benefits endangered species. “Four consecutive reports by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service since 1997 show that critical habitat benefits endangered species. The jury is in. There is not much room for debate.”
Congress declared in 1976 that “if the protection of endangered and threatened species depends in large measure on the preservation of the species’ habitat, then the ultimate effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act will depend on the designation of critical habitat.” The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports show the conclusion to be true.
Yet the Bush administration has lobbied Congress to exempt the military from critical habitat and to override the ESA to make critical habitat protection discretionary everywhere. It has purposefully not budgeted enough funds to carry out court orders to protect critical habitats, and has refused a Congressional invitation to submit a supplemental budget request for enough money to implement the critical habitat law.
While the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has estimated that it needs $120 million to address the backlog of critical habitats to be designated and species to be placed on the endangered species list, the Bush Administration has refused to request such funds from Congress. It requested only $9 million for 2003 and $12.3 million for 2004.
“The Bush administration is purposefully starving the Fish and Wildlife Service’s budget,” said Suckling, “it is using the budget as a weapon to slow the protection of critical habitats and cause a legal train wreck.”
“No other aspect of the Endangered Species Act defines the ground rules as clearly as critical habitat,” said Suckling. “It identifies the most important habitats and requires that they be protected. It is the best way to move from species-by-species conservation to real ecosystem protection.”