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Bush Administration Stranglehold on Endangered Species Information: Conservation Groups Push Forward on Release of Mountain Plover

July 12, 2004
Nicole Rosmarino, Ph.D, WildEarth Guardians - (505) 988-9126 x156
In This Release
Denver, CO – July 12. WildEarth Guardians filed suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) Friday challenging the agency’s refusal to release documents regarding the withdrawal of a proposed rule to list the mountain plover under the Endangered Species Act. The conservation group filed three Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests last fall to compel the Service to release information over the controversial plover listing withdrawal. While the Service has estimated there are at least 36,000 pages of documents responsive to WildEarth Guardians’ requests, not one document has yet been provided to the organization.

WildEarth Guardians is part of a coalition of conservation groups which filed notice last October of their intent to sue the Service over the plover listing withdrawal. The Service’s action to withhold federal protection for the mountain plover came as a shock to scientists and conservationists, given the scientific consensus that the bird is critically imperiled. Threats to the plover include massive oil and gas development in plover breeding habitat in Wyoming and Montana, the loss of key habitat such as prairie dog towns throughout the Great Plains, and the conversion of plover winter range in California to cropland and urban sprawl. Declines of plovers by some 63% from 1966-1991, with subsequent losses of an additional 2.7-3.7% every year, have resulted from these and other threats.

The Endangered Species Act requires listing decisions to be based solely on biological factors and insulated from political and economic considerations. Documents responsive to WildEarth Guardians’ FOIA requests may show that the Service avoided listing the biologically imperiled mountain plover to accommodate commercial interests, such as the oil and gas, crop agriculture, and livestock industries, whose activities are harming plovers and their habitat.

“The Bush Administration has a lot to hide when it comes to the mountain plover,” said Dr. Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians. “In addition to undercutting vital protections for species on the brink, life under Bush means a stranglehold on public access to information.”

Access to information through FOIA is a non-partisan issue. Both the conservative legal watchdog group, Judicial Watch, and the environmental organization, Natural Resources Defense Council, sued for documents pertaining to the National Energy Policy Development Group, which designed the Bush Energy Plan. A FOIA courtroom victory resulted in the discovery of a chillingly cozy involvement by the oil and gas industry in the development of the plan, as well as implications for present foreign policy direction in the Middle East.

“Public access to government information is a hallmark of good decisions” said Jeremy Nichols with Biodiversity Conservation Alliance. “By withholding critical information, the Fish and Wildlife Service is only undermining important checks and balances that protect people and wildlife from poor decisions.”

While alarmed at the Service’s decision not to protect the plover, this dramatic about-face is not unexpected. The Center for Biological Diversity has tracked the Bush Administration’s refusal to enforce the ESA and has documented that George W. Bush has listed fewer species under the ESA than any other administration since the law’s passage in 1973. Only 31 species in total have been listed under Bush, and all of those listings have been ordered by the courts. In contrast, the Clinton Administration listed 65 species per year and the George H. W. Bush Administration listed an average of 59 species every year. Though the present administration cites underfunding as its excuse for failing to protect imperiled species, for years it has been asking Congress to chronically starve the program of funding.

“The Bush Administration is desperately trying to dismantle our nation’s most important conservation laws,” observed Erin Robertson, Staff Biologist for Center for Native Ecosystems. “The extinction of the mountain plover will be just another casualty of the Administration’s misguided crusade against the environment.”

The alliance of conservation groups advocating prompt plover protection includes the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance (Laramie, WY), the Center for Biological Diversity (Denver, CO), Center for Native Ecosystems (Boulder, CO), and WildEarth Guardians (Santa Fe, NM).

Other Contact
Erin Robertson, Staff Biologist, Center for Native Ecosystems (303) 546-0214, Jeremy Nichols, Staff Biologist, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance (307) 742-7978