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Press release: for immediate release

Council director sees new light for endangered species

Greenfield, MA.  March 5, 2009. In a striking turnaround to Bush Administration policy, President Obama on Tuesday issued a memorandum to the interior and commerce departments that thwart last-minute changes undermining the consultation provision of the Endangered Species Act.  “We’re thrilled that the President has restored scientific consultation with the federal scientists trained to make determinations about endangered species.  ” says Chelsea Gwyther, Executive Director of the Connecticut River Watershed Council.

Long-standing Endangered Species Act procedures were overturned in December by the outgoing Bush Administration.  That midnight rule-making stripped away many ESA oversight duties on development projects that had historically been handled by the federal fish and wildlife agencies and the scientists specifically mandated with evaluating and protecting them.  Under the new Bush rules, agencies that propose projects get to decide for themselves the impacts to rare species and habitats, even though they often have strong resource development mandates and little expertise in species protection.

According to Gwyther, President Obama has now issued a memorandum to continue the long-standing practice of consulting with federal wildlife experts while they review Bush’s changes to the ESA.  This “time-out” offers a chance to put in place new policy protections for America’s rare species. “We’re getting back on track to protect our environmental heritage,” she says, noting that federally protected species including the Puritan tiger beetle, the shortnose sturgeon, the dwarf wedgemussel and small whorled pogonia reside in the Connecticut River Valley.

Gwyther says that while the Obama memorandum does not rescind the Bush changes, an opportunity to fully restore those ESA protections is now before the Senate as part of an omnibus spending bill.  It would also allow greenhouse gas emissions and oil development to be considered in light of endangered species protections for species like the polar bear.  “I encourage anyone with an interest in saving our biological heritage to thank President Obama for his timely intervention, and to write and encourage their senators to vote for this bill.”

On October 1, 2008, the Vermont Law School, on behalf of the Watershed Council and Vermont Natural Resources Council, submitted a 25-page comment letter opposing the Bush Administration’s proposed changes. Their requests, along with approximately 300,000 letters opposing the changes, went unheeded.  “Although the past Administration did not heed our call, it is reassuring to know that the current Administration understands the importance of good science.”

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For press information contact: Chelsea Gwyther, CRWC Executive Director: cgwyther@ctriver.org; or (413) 772-2020, ext. 202.