Politics Of Endangered Species Act At Issue(01/30/1996) - Washington, D.C. Thirteen environmental organizations and two private individuals headed by Defenders of Wildlife, Biodiversity Legal Foundation and Northwest Ecosystem Alliance today sued the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for failure to list the lynx under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
In a suit filed in the Federal District Court in Washington, D.C., these groups noted that the failure to list was inconsistent with scientific findings made by the FWS' own field biologists. The lynx, a brownish-gray cat usually weighing less than thirty pounds and distinguished by its long black ear tufts, once ranged throughout many areas of the northwestern and northeastern states, but its numbers have dwindled to only several hundred scattered individuals, mostly in Maine, Montana, Idaho, and Washington.
Defenders' Legal Director William Snape said today, "We simply want the federal government to obey the law and list a species on the brink of extinction based solely on established scientific standards under the Endangered Species Act. The anti-environmental climate in Congress is no excuse for not taking administrative action."
The biggest threat to the lynx comes from continued logging and road building in northern forests. Many of these forests are roadless and administered by the U.S. Forest Service. The lynx, a predator high in the food chain, is an important species in boreal forests and needs undisturbed forest habitat in order to survive.
Jasper Carlton of the Biodiversity Legal Foundation stressed that, "We are clearly losing the lynx to habitat destruction, trapping, hunting and loss of its prey base. Politics could drive this magnificent creature toward extinction."
Mitch Friedman of the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance added that, "The desire to cut national forest land in eastern Washington, western Montana and Idaho is driving this cynical political decision to leave the lynx unprotected. The disastrous lawless logging bill passed by Congress only compounds the ecological problems facing the lynx. The 104th Congress has already been able to pass two laws harmful to the lynx by attaching them to unrelated federal spending bills. One rider has allowed timber companies access to national forests without compliance to federal conservation laws under the ruse of "salvage logging."
The other rider has prevented the FWS from issuing final listing decisions under the ESA, a situation that Congress would expand under the FY '96 Interior Appropriations bill vetoed by the President. The present suit to protect the lynx seeks only a proposed listing and does not run afoul of the present listing moratorium.
Despite the present hostile political climate for wildlife, FWS biologists have spent years extensively researching the lynx and its habitat. Their research indicates that the U.S. lynx population is on the brink of extinction and is being splintered into smaller, isolated populations that cannot connect with each other due to continued clearcutting and road building through forest lands. Despite the recommendation of its own field offices that the lynx be listed, the FWS Washington, D.C. office decided not to list the species in December 1994.
Snape continued, "The decision not to protect the lynx is riddled with illegalities. First the agency illegally relied on a regulation not yet finalized, which even if final would violate the ESA, and then used this illegal regulation to impermissibly inject political considerations into the listing process."
The Endangered Species Act is this country's leading statute to protect endangered plant and animal species, as well as their habitats. The Act is up for renewal this year, and some Members of Congress clearly wish to greatly weaken or even repeal it. Defenders has offered numerous recommendations to make the ESA more effective. One proposal focuses on protecting keystone species, such as the lynx, because their health is an indicator of the health of broader ecosystems. Another proposal would end harmful ecological practices on federal land that cost the federal treasury billions of dollars each year.
Several states have recognized that the lynx needs protection, including Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York, Colorado, Wyoming, Washington and Oregon.
Defenders and the co-plaintiffs are represented on this issue by Eric Glitzenstein and Kimberly Walley of the law firm of Meyer and Glitzenstein in Washington, D.C. In addition to the Biodiversity Legal Foundation and the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, co-plaintiffs include the Fund for Animals, Humane Society of the United States, Kettle Range conservation Group, Minnesota Ecosystem Recovery Project Inc., Oregon Natural Resources Council Act, Predator Project, Restore: the North Woods, Superior Wilderness Action Network, Voice of the Environment, Western Ancient Forest Campaign, Mark Skatrud, and Evan Frost.
Contact(s):Joan Moody, 202-682-9400 x220 (Media)
Bill Snape, 202-682-9400 x232 (Legal)