Bush Administration Endangers Species List

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

On Friday the Department of the Interior quietly issued a new interpretation of the Endangered Species Act on its website. In it the DOI essentially redefines what is an “endangered species,” quibbling with the meaning of terms such as “significant” and “portion” and “range,” which, in the original act, mandated that an “endangered species” is “any species which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.”

Under the new opinion, an animal will no longer be classified as “endangered” if a population thrives in any part of the nation. For example, the gray wolf would be delisted in Montana and Idaho where it survives in stable populations, but remain “endangered” in Wyoming. (Never mind that Montana and Wyoming and Idaho are all neighbors and their gray wolf populations don’t pay attention to borders.)

Because of this new definition of “endangered,” the Center for Biological Diversity estimates that 80% of current species on the federal endangered and threatened lists may be dropped, along with the protection the list provides them. (The CBD found that 77% of the 108 species that have gone extinct since the Endangered Species Act was enacted did so during the lengthy listing process.)

The opinion also makes no provisions for animals who have been driven out of prior habitats. “It’s just so clearly illogical and anti-wildlife that I can’t wait to get this before a federal judge,” said Kieran Suckling, policy director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “They are rewarding industry for driving populations extinct. Because as soon as you drive a population extinct (in a certain area) it is no longer on the table. It no longer counts toward whether a species is endangered.”

The opinion reasoned that:

“The phrase ‘in danger’ denotes a present-tense condition of being at risk of a future, undesired event. Hence, to say a species ‘is in danger’ in an area where it no longer exists–i.e. in its historical range–would be inconsistent with common usage …. the Secretary must consider the ‘present’ or ‘threatened’ (i.e. future), rather than the past ‘destruction, modification, or curtailment’ of a species’ habitat or range.”

Unfortunately, the DOI’s opinion may stick. As a previous case dictated, if a word like “endangered” is ambiguous, the federal court must accept the department’s definition, “even if the agency’s reading differs from what the court believes is the best statutory interpretation.” “This policy will do more to promote the purposeful killing of imperiled species than anything else this administration has ever done,” said Suckling.

Possibly Suckling hasn’t seen the even more questionable Endangered Species Reform Act of 2007, introduced to the Senate last month, that would require lengthy research, numerous reports, petitions, and government confirmation of all that information before a rapidly-disappearing species could even be listed as “endangered” in the first place.

—Jen Phillips


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend