The following editorial appeared in today's Boston Globe:
The Bush administration could have found no more galling way to flaunt its disregard for the environment. This week, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it will slash by 23 percent the amount of land designated as critical habitat for the northern spotted owl under the Endangered Species Act. The announcement came one day after Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne essentially proposed gutting the act.
The administration, prodded by developers and loggers, wants to abolish rules requiring federal agencies to consult with government wildlife or marine scientists before roads, dams, mines, and other construction projects can be approved. Bush would allow agencies to decide for themselves what impacts their projects would have on wildlife. Environmental groups are already up in arms, and rightly so.
The slashing of spotted owl habitat proves the point. It comes despite reports that the population in the Pacific Northwest and northern California is declining by 4 percent a year because of several possible factors: logging, wildfires, possible inbreeding, and an invasion of competing barred owls. The Seattle Times reported this week that spotted owl nesting sites in Washington State have dropped by nearly half since 1994. The newspaper quoted US Geological Survey wildlife geneticist Susan Haig as saying, "I have not lost hope for spotted owls. But I think we're at a pretty serious crossroads."
The cut in spotted-owl habitat came after relentless industry pressure - the same pressure environmentalists fear will be commonplace if federal agencies are under no compunction to vet projects for species impact. In 2005, Weyerhaeuser, which recently settled a lawsuit with environmentalists over logging in spotted-owl habitat, was allowed to edit a draft letter from US Fish and Wildlife concerning the company's logging activities.
A year ago, a federally appointed panel of scientists from the Society for Conservation Biology and the American Ornithologists' Union said the Bush administration's plans to reduce spotted-owl habitat "failed to make use of the best available science and, in fact, appears to have selectively cited from the available science to justify a reduction in habitat protection."
Still, the Bush administration insists on giving the fox the keys to the henhouse. Congress, environmentalists, and anyone who cares about the protections achieved under the Endangered Species Act - from the bald eagle to wild daisies - should let Kempthorne know in the 30-day comment period that what he calls "common-sense modifications" is just capitulation.
What's your view? Disagree (or agree) with the editorial writer? Have your say in the comments section below.
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