Saturday, August 20, 2005

ENV: ESA Reversals

Judges Rebuff Government on Endangered Species
By FELICITY BARRINGER, The New York Times, August 20, 2005

WASHINGTON, Aug. 19 - Federal judges on opposite sides of the country ruled Friday that the Fish and Wildlife Service had acted arbitrarily and violated the Endangered Species Act when it reversed its own decisions and cut back on protections for two disparate species.

The judges - one in San Francisco and one in Brattleboro, Vt. - overturned separate regulations involving California tiger salamanders and gray wolves in New England.

In both cases, the Bush administration had combined sparser, distinct populations of a species with larger, robust populations, and then said protections could be reduced.

In his ruling striking down the agency's 2003 regulation on gray wolves, Judge J. Garvan Murtha wrote that the agency, after making the scientific determination that a species was endangered, could not change its mind "because it lumps together a core population with a low to nonexistent population."

The gray wolf outside Alaska has been on the endangered list since 1973. Then, there were fewer than 500 outside Alaska. Today, the wolf's recovery has been a success story.

The case, brought by the Natural Wildlife Federation and other groups, was based on evidence that, although the wolf's recovery in the Great Lakes area and parts of the Rocky Mountains had been successful, few if any gray wolves exist in New England. The latter fact has led some biologists to question whether gray wolves ever lived there.

In 2003, the wildlife service, in what Judge Murtha called "a stark departure" from its original plan, abandoned its separate designation of Northeastern wolves. Instead, it combined the Midwestern populations with those in the East.

A year ago, Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton announced she intended to take this Eastern population group off the endangered list.

In the case of the California salamanders, brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, Judge William Alsup ruled that the wildlife service had "no scientific evidence" for reversing itself in a 2004 regulation that reduced protections for separate populations of the tiger salamander in Santa Barbara and Sonoma Counties. Both populations had been listed as endangered.

Judge Alsup's decision invalidated the 2004 rule, saying that it "was bereft of any analysis."

Agency scientists, he found, "were overruled and directed to eliminate" their earlier finding that these two populations of salamander were distinct subgroups and in danger of extermination.

Peter Galvin, conservation director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said the ruling "shines a very bright spotlight on the Bush administration's subversion of science."

Jeff Eisenberg, a spokesman for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, which had opposed protections for the salamanders, said his group "regrets the Endangered Species Act has become so complicated and difficult to administer so as to produce the convoluted result."

A spokesman for the Interior Department could not be reached.


Post a Comment

<< Home