White House to rethink endangered species lists

Published October 6, 2009 9:12 pm

Environment » Courts have ruled the Bush camp meddled in the protection process.
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From wolverines to black-tailed prairie dogs, dozens of plants and animals around the nation are being re-evaluated for possible inclusion on threatened or endangered species lists.

The Obama administration is taking a fresh look, in many cases under court order, at Bush administration rejections of special status for certain plants and animals. A move to prevent extinction of more species could limit housing construction and energy development.

Wednesday, federal officials are expected to propose protection for an additional 19,000 acres of Colorado habitat for the Preble's meadow jumping mouse, a threatened species.

New species under consideration for protection have "aesthetic, ecological, education, historical, recreational and scientific value," and those facing extinction "could be indicators of bigger ecosystem problems that could hurt us," said Bridget Fahey, regional director of endangered species for the Interior Department's Fish and Wildlife Service.

"Science shows that when you start removing species from our ecosystem things can start to break down," Fahey said.

In Colorado, the state government is working through a parallel process to protect imperiled animals.

State wildlife overseers, who took the initiative of re-introducing the lynx, recently began weighing the feasibility of a state wolverine-recovery program.

The wolverine "has a reputation of being sort of a bad-tempered animal that tends to break into cabins and wreak havoc. It's not the same charismatic type of critter the lynx is. But we have the type of habitat that could sustain wolverines," said Tom Nesler, chief of wildlife conservation for Colorado.

At the federal level, Endangered Species Act litigation has forced a re-evaluation of dozens of species rejected under President George W. Bush, including the mountain plover, wolverine, greater sage grouse, white-tailed prairie dog and the Gunnison sage grouse.

The proposal to add 19,000 acres to the current 20,000 acres designated as critical habitat for the Preble's meadow jumping mouse also is tied to court action.

A 9-inch-long brown rodent with enlarged rear feet, the mouse forages in wetlands along Colorado's high-growth Front Range from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs. It's one of eight species nationwide for which federal courts have ordered reconsideration following a finding of inappropriate political meddling by a Bush administration deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks.

In response to petitions for dozens of other species, federal wildlife officials have begun in-depth analyses of survival threats, including climate change, that could qualify each as endangered.

While environmentalists say they're hoping President Barack Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will move to protect many more species, some expressed doubts.

The Obama administration's environmental interests focus "more on energy and land issues" than on saving endangered species, said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity.

Tom Strickland, assistant secretary of the Interior for fish, wildlife and parks, said the administration is trying to balance the two interests.

"We have a very strong commitment in this administration to promote renewable energy. But that will not be done at the expense of other environmental considerations," Strickland said. "We will do our best to harmonize those twin goals."

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