Nearly 130 scientists today asked the Interior Department to change a policy set under the Bush administration guiding how agencies decide whether a species is endangered.
At issue is guidance issued in 2007 that redefined when the Fish and Wildlife Service would protect a species as "endangered" or "threatened." The Endangered Species Act requires protection of any species in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.
Then-Interior Solicitor David Bernhardt issued guidance that recommended agencies focus on plants and animals most at risk in their current locations, rather than throughout their historic range or in other locations where species may be healthy.
The scientists want Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to rescind that memorandum. They say it sharply limits the scope of the ESA by limiting analysis to species' current range and by specifying that species will be listed only in the portion of range considered significant.
"We are concerned that these interpretations will result in imperiled species not receiving protection and limit where species that are listed are ultimately recovered," they wrote. "We are also concerned that the memorandum will limit protection for endangered species to small portions of range where they may not be recoverable."
Duke University's Stuart Pimm, Michigan Tech University's John Vucetich and the Center for Biological Diversity's Noah Greenwald headed up the letter. They said the policy is limiting protections for species including the gray wolf and Colorado River cutthroat trout.
"Ignoring loss of range when determining whether species require protection as endangered species makes little sense," Pimm said in a statement. "Resetting the clock to the present day could result in many species that have lost significant portions of range being wrongfully denied protection."
An Interior spokeswoman said the department is reviewing the letter.
The Bush-era memorandum was written to respond to the department's losing record in court on its previous interpretation of species' range. A group of career Interior lawyers contributed to the guidance and all signed onto the document (Greenwire, May 2, 2007).
Click here to read the letter.