In what critics bill as a "parting shot" for industry friends, the Bush Administration is trying to change the way the Endangered Species Act is executed and take decision-making about wildlife out of the hands of expert biologists.
Under the proposal, federal agencies would be able to determine for themselves whether or not projects will encroach upon threatened or endangered species. Currently, they have to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service, which employs experts to study, develop recovery plans for and assess the impact of projects on endangered wildlife.
This would only be the latest attempt by the Bush Administration to weaken protections under the act, which conservatives have long criticized for its role in delaying or derailing economic development for the sake of species protection. Private property rights advocates have long had the act in their cross hairs, but Congress and the courts have typically upheld the law as written, requiring sometimes vast acreage be left untouched and devoted to conservation.
Bush Administration political appointees had previously been caught altering scientific reports at the Fish and Wildlife Service in a now well-documented effort to reduce protections for endangered species.
The reaction to this latest move was swift from Democrats in Congress and from conservation organizations like Earthjustice, which took the administration to court over a similar attempt to undermine federal biologists. That suggests that, at the least, this rule change faces a long hard fight.
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