Administration to Voluntarily Rollback Salmon Critical Habitat Protectionby Endangered Species Coalition
Environmental News Network, March 12, 2002
WASHINGTON, DC -- The Bush administration is continuing its campaign of rolling back protection for endangered and threatened species with a proposed sweetheart legal settlement to rescind critical habitat designations for 19 species of imperiled salmon and steelhead. "It makes no sense to remove critical habitat protection before the court even decides whether the current designations are valid" says Endangered Species Coalition executive director Brock Evans. If approved, the proposed settlement with the National Association of Homebuilders and 16 other pro-development and logging interests would remove critical habitat protection now enjoyed by salmon and steelhead throughout their current West Coast range, including 150 watersheds, river segments, bays and estuaries in Washington, Oregon, California and Idaho.
In giving in to the developers without a fight, the administration is creating a dangerous precedent by agreeing to go back and do another economic analysis, when there is nothing wrong with the existing one. For most people on the West Coast, protecting and restoring healthy salmon and steelhead runs makes good economic sense, while weakening habitat protections just to facilitate more logging and development will end up costing these communities a lot more in the long run. "The Bush administration has clearly decided that short-term economic benefits for a few special interests is more important than the long-term benefits derived from restoring healthy watersheds and vibrant runs of salmon and steelhead." said Evans. "I wonder if President Bush would have taken his campaign promise to protect and restore these imperiled salmon and steelhead runs more seriously if Washington, Oregon and California had voted for him?"
The voluntary agreement abandons a federal government policy of maintaining critical habitat protection in settlements while adjustments to reflect court decisions are made through the normal public rule-making process. According to Evans, "The administration is clearly anxious to get the ball rolling on overturning critical habitat designations in a case that has wide-ranging implications for many other Endangered Species Act protected plants and animals." Although the fish will still have basic ESA protection, even the National Marine Fisheries Service admits that it will be more difficult to gain adequate mitigation and habitat protection for development, logging and agricultural activities on private lands. "With loss and degradation of habitat the primary threat to these salmon and steelhead, the administration is once again demonstrating its callous disregard for protecting imperiled species by allowing habitat critical to their survival and recovery to be furthered harmed," said Evans.
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