I have to laugh whenever I see fear-mongers like Newt Gingrich or Rush Limbaugh refer to Obama as the “most liberal president in the history of the United States”. Since taking office, Obama has been about as much the “most liberal” president as, oh, Mitt Romney is really “severely” conservative. They’re both actually relatively moderate, and I don’t think that overall that’s a bad thing at all. Given the extreme political polarization in the United States, we NEED more moderate leadership. With that said, there are some things that Obama has done on the environmental front that have been really disappointing. Add another issue to that list.
The Obama administration is proposing signficant changes to policies that dictate when species are considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act. In effect, it would make it much more difficult for a species to be listed for protection. They are attempting to redefine what is meant by a species being threatened in a “significant” portion of its range. Under the proposed changes, a species could be threatened with extirpation from a given portion of its range, but not be considered for protection under the ESA because it has a population stronghold in some other location. Unless a local or regional extirpation threat is noted to potentially threaten the entire species as a whole, it will no likely no longer be considered for protection. In addition, the new interpretation provides NO mechanism for protection or restoration of habitat in an area where the species was once found.
This reinterpretation of the ESA could have PROFOUND effects on the listing of species. The story cited above notes one example, the Bald Eagle. Bald Eagle populations were always very high in Alaska and parts of Canada, it was in the lower 48 states where populations plummeted in the 20th century. Under the new Obama ESA interpretation? Chances are the Bald Eagle would have NEVER been placed on the ESA, as local extirpation in the mainland USA wouldn’t have threatened extinction for the species overall, given that so many eagles were present in Alaska.
The rule change opens up the likelihood that species’ home ranges could continually be nibbled away at…as long as there’s SOME population, SOMEWHERE in the world where numbers remain stable. Losing some species in the entire eastern U.S. due to habitat loss? Under the new interpretation…IRRELEVANT! As long as there’s some population in the western U.S. or elsewhere where the species isn’t under threat of extinction!!
In effect, developers, oil and gas companies, mining companies, and others who fight against environmental protections offered under the ESA would now have the opportunity to continually nibble away at habitats…one chunk at a time…without threat of legal protection, as long as a developer or oil company could demonstrate that a species under review has a viable population somewhere ELSE. It’s the same completely misguided policy that has allowed for wetland destruction for urban development, as long as the developer “restores” a wetland somewhere else…even though studies show that “new”, created wetlands aren’t nearly as ecologically functional as natural wetlands.
Historical range of a species? No longer important under the new Obama interpretation!! Once a species is wiped out from an area, there’s no longer any concern about protecting or restoring habitat in that area, no matter how much of a stronghold it may have once been for a species.
This is a truly disgusting move. I really wish we had the ability to look behind the curtain and see all the back-room negotiating that goes on in politics. What did Obama get in return from industry for proposing this change?