Don't Undermine Endangered Species Law,
by Warren Cornwall, environment reporter
U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks issued a stern warning Wednesday to the Bush administration not to weaken the Endangered Species Act, in the wake of a leaked U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service document that suggests the agency was considering an overhaul to the rules.
Dicks, at a hearing of the Interior appropriations subcommittee he chairs, told Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall that he should get congressional approval for any far-reaching changes to regulations underpinning the law.
"If you're going to make these kind of fundamental, sweeping changes, they ought to come up to Congress, rather than being done by regulation in a way that looks as if it is very critically undermining the intent of the act," Dicks, D-Bremerton, told Hall.
Hall responded that endangered-species revisions, first reported this week by the online magazine Salon, were only part of a draft that has since undergone further changes. And decisions about any changes in the rules haven't been made, he said.
He assured Dicks, "I will not support anything, even going to the secretary [of the Interior] that our field staff and I can't support."
The latest dustup, over what would ordinarily be a relatively obscure agency document, is just the latest in a long-running fight over the Endangered Species Act.
After Dirk Kempthorne, a former senator and Idaho governor, took over as Interior secretary last year, the Fish and Wildlife Service began considering possible changes to the Endangered Species Act's implementation, Hall said. Kempthorne has long been a critic of the law.
The draft includes several changes to dense, legalistic rules that guide how the act is put into practice.
But taken together, the changes would represent "a multifaceted effort to narrow the scope of the Endangered Species Act," said Jan Hasselman, an attorney in the Seattle office of the environmental legal group Earthjustice.
"Under this proposal, fewer species would be listed, fewer protections would be in place and ultimately more species would go extinct."
Among the changes contained in the draft:
The Fish and Wildlife Service maintains that the proposed changes would improve protections and offer clearer guidance to regional offices, said service spokesman Chris Tollefson. "We recognize the importance of the Endangered Species Act," he said. "What we're trying to do is make it work better, not compromise it."
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