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Endangered Species Act - Under Attack

October 9, 2008

Two conservation groups today called on the Bush Administration to halt plans to rollback the protections of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Connecticut River Watershed Council and the Vermont Natural Resources Council submitted a comment letter prepared by the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic of Vermont Law School asking that Secretary Kempthorne halt the ill-advised changes proposed to the Endangered Species Act. They call on him to respect the fact that for 35 years the biological heritage of the United States has been fortified and sustained by the protections afforded through the ESA.

The Endangered Species Act (ESA), the country’s landmark legislation that helped rescue the bald eagle, the peregrine falcon, the grizzly bear and black footed ferret and that currently protects rare plants, endangered frogs, migratory sturgeon, butterflies and birds across the North America, is now threatened by political maneuvering in the waning days of the Bush Administration.

The changes being proposed by Secretary Dirk Kempthorne of the US Department of the Interior would:

  • Exempt thousands of federal activities—from mining to dam building and highway construction projects—from independent expert oversight regarding potential impacts to endangered species;
  • Limit what can be considered harmful, including any consideration of global warming impacts; and
  • Shorten to just 60 days the time that wildlife experts have to review and comment on a project if invited to do so; otherwise projects get an automatic green light.

According to Chelsea Gwyther, Executive Director of the Connecticut River Watershed Council, “The future of our nation’s most imperiled species is too important to leave to a foreshortened public scrutiny process, and too weighty to allow last minute political considerations to guide it.”

The proposed changes to the ESA would leave decisions about a project’s impact on endangered species to the very agencies proposing the project—for example, the Bureau of Land Reclamation, Bureau of Land Management, Department of Transportation, and Office of Surface Mining—agencies that were never designed to protect America’s imperiled wildlife.

Incomprehensibly, the rule would cut out the very agencies with this expertise, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. Not only do the proposed changes threaten to undo the single most effective provision of the Act, interagency consultation, they also limit the agencies’ ability to address the impacts of climate change on our nation's most imperiled wildlife.

Although these are the most significant changes to Endangered Species Act regulations in 20 years, the Department of the Interior originally provided the public just 30 days in which to submit comments. Although this was later extended to 60 days it still falls short of the traditional 90 day comment period. It has also prevented anyone from sending their comments by email or fax.

"This proposal weakens protections for the nation's most imperiled species at a time when the threat of extinction is increasing as a result of climate change and ongoing destruction of critical habitat," said Patrick Parenteau, Professor of Law at Vermont Law School, who authored the comments with help from students in the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic.

Jamey Fidel of the Vermont Natural Resources Council observed, “In Vermont, we take the protection of wildlife very seriously. Vermonters will not be happy to learn that the Bush administration is stripping long-standing safeguards to protect our nation’s most imperiled wildlife species.”

Chelsea Gwyther warned, “It is time to stop borrowing our natural heritage from future generations.”

The Connecticut River Watershed Council and Vermont Natural Resources Council are urging all citizens to write Secretary Kempthorne and urge the halt of these proposed changes to the ESA immediately, and allow a deliberate, science-based and democratic process to guide any future changes to the Act.


Chelsea Gwyther
CT River Watershed Council
cell: 413-658-8552

Pat Parenteau
Vermont Law School

Jamey Fidel
VT Natural Resources Council
802-223-2328 X117

Connecticut River Watershed Council has been a non-profit advocate for the 11,000 square-mile watershed of the Connecticut River emphasizing fisheries restoration, erosion prevention, land conservation, and water quality since 1952. For more information about our mission and to become a member, please visit

Vermont Natural Resources Council is Vermont’s oldest statewide environmental organization dedicated to protecting our natural resources, including wildlife habitat, through research, education and advocacy. Visit

Vermont Law School—a private, independent institution—is top-ranked in environmental law by U.S.News & World Report. VLS offers a Juris Doctor (JD) curriculum that emphasizes public service, a Master of Environmental Law and Policy (MELP) degree for lawyers and nonlawyers, and two post-JD degrees, the Master of Laws (LLM) in Environmental Law and the LLM in American Legal Studies (for international students).