Forty-five days left to restore the Endangered Species Act

For nearly a decade I've enjoyed the privilege of hiking in Oregon's forests, rafting our rivers, and heading out somewhere beautiful to camp every chance I get. I feel really blessed to live in a state where the mountains, coastline, deserts, and rivers are brimming with life. For 35 years the Endangered Species Act has been protecting our state and our nation's most imperiled plants and animals. Contrary to criticisms that the ESA does not work from those who value economic gain over the protection of life, this keystone legislation has successfully prevented the extinction of 98 percent of all listed species.

On the way out the door, the Bush administration issued regulations gutting essential protections for endangered species. The first gives the fox permission to guard the henhouse. It allows federal agencies to proceed with habitat-destroying projects, such as the construction of mines, dams and roads, without consulting with biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to assess impacts to listed species. This regulation is inherently flawed because the revenue of the agencies involved is dependent on their projects moving forward. For example, the Bush administration tested this policy in 2003, and found that when allowed to self-consult over timber sales, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management violated the Endangered Species Act nearly 70 percent of the time.

This regulation also exempts all greenhouse gas-emitting projects, including coal-fired power plants and federal fuel efficiency standards, from Endangered Species Act review. By 2050, nearly a third of the world's species could be committed to extinction if current levels of greenhouse gas emissions continue, according to the latest scientific estimates. The Endangered Species Act says that federal agencies must review any action they permit, fund or carry out that may affect listed species. Climate change undeniably threatens listed species, with more than half of federal endangered species recovery plans issued in the past three years identifying global warming as a threat.

A separate midnight regulation gives a blank check to oil companies and other greenhouse polluters to harm polar bears, even though the government's own studies show that climate change from such emissions is the primary threat to the polar bear's survival.

The short-sighted Bush policies weakening the ESA are the subject of active lawsuits by nine states, including Oregon, and by numerous conservation organizations. When the omnibus appropriations bill was signed into law on March 11, it gave Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar the authority to immediately rescind these policies. With the stroke of a pen, Salazar can counter these illogical regulations, and restore protections to species whose very existence is hanging on political whim. But the secretary's authority to act, and to stand in favor of scientific and ecological integrity, expires on May 9. After that date, reversing these regulations will be an arduous process.

Part of what makes Oregon such an amazing place is the vitality of our wild lands. The survival of many of Oregon's species, such as the salmon in our rivers and the whales off our coast, is safeguarded by the Endangered Species Act. Salazar should immediately take action to defend the ESA and in so doing to defend the wild plants and animals that both depend upon and sustain us.

Tierra Curry is a conservation biologist with The Center for Biological Diversity in Portland.

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