U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Denies Extinction Crisis

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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Denies Extinction Crisis

From Wild Earth Guardians

“The Endangered Species Act has a nearly perfect record in preventing extinction: over 99 percent of the species protected under it are still with us today. The U.S. government must actively enforce this law, particularly during the International Year of Biodiversity, rather than taking the indefensible stance that there is no extinction crisis,”

April 1, 2010 - In court filings, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) recently denied there is an extinction crisis and minimized the problem of global climate change. The Service denied statements in a WildEarth Guardians lawsuit that current extinction rates rival those of previous mass extinction events. Its denial flies in the face of eminent scientists’ estimates that extinction rates are at least 1,000 times the natural rate and that the current extinction crisis compares with five earlier mass extinction events that mark the Earth’s history. Ironically, the government’s denial coincides with the first-ever International Year of Biodiversity.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service is supposed to be on the frontlines protecting our native animals and plants and the ecosystems on which they depend. Instead, this agency is burying its head in the sand,” stated Dr. Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians.

In response to another WildEarth Guardians lawsuit challenging the Service’s failure to federally protect the Mist Forestfly, which occurs in glacier-fed streams of Glacier National Park, the Service denied that climate change is expected to render Glacier National Park glacier-less by 2030. It further disputed that the fate of this fly and the park’s glaciers are intertwined. The government’s denials are despite public statements by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and published science that Glacier National Park will indeed lose its iconic glaciers within the next two decades.

The Service’s striking string of denials comes in response to a series of cases filed by WildEarth Guardians during its eight-week long “BioBlitz,” an effort aiming at forcing the government to more aggressively respond to the biodiversity crisis during the International Year of Biodiversity, by protecting more species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. In various statements to courts, the Service has described Guardians’ BioBlitz as “unprecedented” and extraordinary.” The Service’s words echo WildEarth Guardians’ goal in its BioBlitz: to respond to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s plea for “actions of unprecedented intensity and commitment on behalf of these fundamental building blocks of life on Earth.”

“Unfortunately, while this administration may pay lip service to the problems of species extinction and climate change, it refuses to recognize scientific reality when it matters,” stated Rosmarino.

Despite the enormity and urgency of the global extinction crisis, the U.S. government has utterly failed to use the Endangered Species Act to protect species. In its first year in office, the Obama administration listed only 2 new U.S. species under the Act, lower than the average annual listing rate for any president since the law’s inception. While Secretary Salazar recently announced he would approve a Bush-era proposal to list a group of Hawaiian species under the law, that final rule has yet to be issued and fails to address the growing numbers of imperiled species across the rest of the U.S. Meanwhile 252 species are candidates, awaiting listing under the Act. Some have waited for protection for decades; others have gone extinct due to delayed protection.

“It has been like pulling teeth to compel the Fish and Wildlife Serve to enforce the teeth in the Endangered Species Act. We’ll keep at it, to ensure the nation’s most imperiled wildlife and plants make it to the finish line of federal protection,” stated Rosmarino.

The BioBlitz began on December 28, the 36-year anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, in tribute to the law’s role in protecting biodiversity and in celebration the International Year of Biodiversity. For 36 consecutive working days, Guardians filed lawsuits or scientific petitions to obtain Endangered Species Act protection for imperiled species. By the close of the BioBlitz, Guardians took actions for over 100 species in 36 days.

“The Endangered Species Act has a nearly perfect record in preventing extinction: over 99 percent of the species protected under it are still with us today. The U.S. government must actively enforce this law, particularly during the International Year of Biodiversity, rather than taking the indefensible stance that there is no extinction crisis,” stated Rosmarino.

WildEarth Guardians has been at the forefront of endangered species enforcement in the U.S. The group is a formal partner in the United Nation’s Year of Biodiversity (see here), in which “The world is invited to take action in 2010 to safeguard the variety of life on earth: biodiversity.”