Bush Administration’s “Pre-emptive Strike” against endangered species……..


Politics is not what I signed up for when I started, as an intern in a marine mammal course, way back when ---- in the dark ages. I had an undergraduate degrees in Biology and Chemistry and was taking grad classes - which is how I ended up with the marine mammal internship (actually, it was because they cancelled the art class I originally signed up for but I digress). I went on the boat - fell in love - and never looked back. I was going to do research on whales, respond to strandings, study whales, learn about them, and be a scientist. I wasn’t going to play politics, learn about legal issues, and certainly not play a game of semantics. But in walks the Bush Administration and life changes.

For the past eight years (though it seems so much longer) I have watched the integrity of science and the environmental legislation in the US erode like the beaches around me. Yet no one can make it sound better than the Bush Administration- the era of the sound-bite. It started way back when Bush was first in office (for the sake of accuracy, I can not say “elected”). There was the “Data Quality Act” passed in 2001. That sounds nice, doesn’t it? Making sure the science is “sound”. Reality is a bit different from the sound-bite though. The Data Quality Act (DQA) was a two sentence rider on a spending bill at the request of corporate lobbyists. It makes it difficult for federal scientists to challenge any corporate claims (from drug companies claims to health impacts from pollution). It made it difficult for me to get a map published in 2007 which showed where whales were hit by boats off Cape Cod. Because the data hadn’t yet been “vetted” by federal officials, the map couldn’t be used in a book. It didn’t matter that the carcasses were necropsied and showed trauma from vessel strikes, or that one of the strikes was witnessed, it only mattered that federal agencies couldn’t confirm it because of the DQA (it’s been over a year and those data are still not released - takes about three years now, apparently).

Then, in 2003, there was the increased “need” for Homeland Security which was the excuse to exempt military exercises from the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act. In 2004, the Bush Administration upped the ante to protect us against terrorism by allowing federal agencies to “conceal sensitive information” required by the National Environmental Protection Act. This, of course, was going to protect us from terrorists that might be hiding in federally protected woodlands. By allowing commercial logging, those pesky terrorists couldn’t hide amongst the old growth trees.

Back to whales - I have spent the better part of the past eight years watching North Atlantic right whales die, one by one, from vessel strike and entanglements. I have watched hard working federal employees trying to do their job to protect right whales as they pounded their heads against the Bush Administration wall. I watched the World Shipping Council have more influence over a rule to protect right whales than any environmental group or federal employee. I watched the rule get released, finally, from the grip of the Bush Administration - only after multiple legal challenges thanks to the Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, Ocean Conservancy and WDCS.

And now, with literally only weeks left in office, the Bush Administration has a parting gift for wildlife - a final attack on the Endangered Species Act - all in the name of “streamlining” it. And, you may have guessed by now, the streamlining serves industry well, but is to the determinant of endangered species. On December 11th, the Department of Interior announced the passage of a rule to modify the requirements of the Endangered Species Act. The changes would allow agencies to permit potentially harmful actions that could impact endangered species and their habitats without consulting with federal wildlife experts.

Most of these actions require a 30 day “cooling off” period which means we still have another five days for this Administration to “streamline”, “protect us”, or “ensure quality” at the expense of endangered species and environmental protection. Dear President Elect Obama - all I want for Christmas is this - I spend less thinking that the status quo in environmental protection is a success - and more time being a biologist.

This entry was posted by Regina Asmutis-Silvia on Tuesday, December 16. 2008 at 14:35. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own blog. All new comments are subject to moderation before being displayed.