In separate letters today, 89 conservation groups and 97 scientists expressed opposition to a proposed Obama administration policy that would sharply limit protection for the nation’s imperiled wildlife by reinterpreting a key phrase in the Endangered Species Act that determines when plants and animals qualify for protection. Conservation groups opposing the policy include the Center for Biological Diversity, Endangered Species Coalition, Earthjustice and the Humane Society of the United States.
“This policy is like ignoring an injured patient in the emergency room and jumping into action only when he’s at death’s door,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “If this policy had been in place when the Endangered Species Act was passed, the bald eagle would never have been protected in any of the lower 48 states, because there were still a lot of eagles up in Alaska.”
Under the Act, an endangered species is defined as any “in danger of extinction in all or a significant of portion of its range.” The phrase “significant portion of range” is important, because it means that a species need not be at risk of extinction everywhere it lives to receive protection. The proposed Obama policy reinterprets this phrase by defining “significant” to mean that loss of the species from that portion of range would threaten the survival of the species, creating a much higher threshold for imperiled wildlife to be protected under the Endangered Species Act. It also limits consideration of whether species are endangered in portions of their range to only where they currently exist and not their historic range—effectively pretending species have not already experienced massive losses from which they need to recover.
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