Bush rolls back animal and habitat protection

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2001:
WASHINGTON D.C.–Rolling back animal and habitat protection, especially last-minute actions of former U.S. President Bill Clinton, was a top priority for new President George W. Bush during his first month in office.

Immediately after inauguration Bush ordered the Federal Register to delay listing new regulations until after they are reviewed by his Cabinet. Listing in the Federal Register is the final stage of a regulation taking effect. The Bush order included the January 17 creation of six new national monuments, by executive order of Clinton, who created 17 new monuments in all during his term, covering 5.6 million acres.

The delay also held up a largely symbolic January 18 order by former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, on his next-to-last day in office, which rescinded a 19-year-old directive preventing the Bureau of Land Management from designating any of its 80 million acres in Alaska as protected wilderness. The rescinded directive was issued by James Watt, the Interior Secretary during the first two years of the Ronald Reagan presidential administration. Babbitt’s successor is Bush appointee Gail Norton, who debuted in public
affairs as an attorney under Watt at the Mountain States Legal Foundation.

Bush sent a further “go slow” warning to federal agencies on January 23 with an executive order halting the designation of 844,897 acres of critical habitat for the California penisular bighorn sheep. The critical habitat had already been downsized by 31,000 acres. Other recent critical habitat listings are likely to be delayed despite downsizing, including the January 18 designation of 182,360 acres in southern coastal California as critical to the survival of the arroyo toad.

The Bush administration is also expected to delay or cancel the January 18 designation of 4.6 million acres as critical habitat for the Mexican spotted owl, including 3.2 million acres in Utah, 830,003 acres in Arizona, and 54,000 acres in New Mexico. Mike Noel of the People for the USA chapter in Kanab, Utah, pledged to challenge the designation as too large, although it covers only half the habitat originally proposed. Kieran Suckling of the Center for Biological Diversity and John Horning of Forest Guardians, both in Tucson, meanwhile promised to fight the designation as too small.

Even before Bush took office–and well before his disputed election was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court–“go slow” became the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule-of-the-moment on proposed new endangered species listings. Short of funding to research proposed listings, and expecting no help from the Republican-dominated Congress, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service chief Jamie Rappaport Clark on November 17, 2000 declared a year-long moratorium on listing any additional species.

“Currently there are about 25 proposed species that will not be listed because of the moratorium, 193 species with proposed critical habitat, and 249 candidate species,” said Endangered Species Coalition western regional organizer Sarah Matsumoto. “If the moratorium is not withdrawn,” Matsumoto continued, “the coastal cutthroat trout, piping plover, cottontailed rabbit, cerulean warbler, Chiricahjua leopard frog, desert yellowhead, and many other imperiled species will not receive the protections that they desperately need.”
But even as Matsumoto spoke, the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed downlisting seven species from “endangered” to “threatened” status, including the tiny Florida Key deer, the American crocodile, two insects, and two plants whose presence has inhibited development in the Keys and central Florida. Both regions are political strongholds for Bush and his brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush.


Despite the Bush delaying action, a Clinton administration order banning snowmobiles from Yellowstone National Park starting in 2003 was published two days after Bush took office. U.S. Senator Craig Thomas (R-Wyoming), chair of the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks, on February 16 responded by proposing legislation to rescind the ban in favor of new noise and air quality standards for snowmobiles, to take effect in 2005. The snowmobile ban is also target of a lawsuit filed in December by the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association.
An estimated 140,000 snowmobile visits per year are believed to produce 68% of the carbon monoxide pollution in the park and up to 90% of hydrocarbon emissions.

While the National Park Service moved against snowmobiles, the U.S. Forest Service merely proposed to study their impact within the Medicine Bow National Forest of Wyoming, and the Bureau of Land Management exempted mountain bikes from a pending new off-road vehicle policy. The BLM had already eliminated off-road vehicular access to nearly half of the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area in southern California, and closed the Windy Point off-road recreation area, in settlement of a lawsuit filed in March 2000 by the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
Pressure to restrict off-road vehicle use took on a public health dimension in early February after University of Utah biology professor Denise Dearing published data suggesting that the habitat damage caused by off-roaders alters the lifestyles of mice and rats in ways that accelerate the spread of hantavirus–and that the dust spread by off-road vehicles may be a major hantavirus transmission factor. Hantavirus is known to have afflicted 277 Americans in recent years, 105 of whom have died. Most lived in proximity or were otherwise exposed to off-road recreation sites, chiefly in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico, but also in other states.

Off-road vehicle makers are among the major funders of wise-use Republican political campaigns, however, and off-road vehicle users are among the key voting blocks who supported Bush.  A reminder of that relationship came on January 18 when the pro-hunting Wildlife Conservation Fund of American filed suit seeking to overturn a new rule restricting the use of off-road vehicles in the Big Cypress National Preserve, of Florida. The National Park and Conservation Association in both 1999 and 2000 listed the Big Cypress National Preserve as one of the 10 most environmentally degraded federal parks in the U.S., chiefly due to off-road vehicular damage along an estimated 30,000 miles of trails.

Other rules

In other regulatory matters involving animal issues:

* Newly appointed Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman delayed but then pledged to release for public comment a new set of rules governing how meat product manufacturing plants prevent product contamination with listeria. The Clinton administration proposed the new rules after a 1998 listerosis outbreak in Michigan killed 21 people and caused more than 100 to fall seriously ill.

* The Environmental Protection Agency temporarily suspended a crackdown on manure runoff from Oregon ranches, feedlots, and dairies, ostensibly to give Oregon lawmakers the opportunity to address the matter themselves.

* The National Marine Fisheries Service and Sea Turtle Restoration Project asked Bush to introduce and enforce new rules to reduce sea turtle strandings along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. There were an average of 2,382 strandings a year along those coasts from 1991 through 1999, but 3,136 sea turtles washed up dead in 2000, many of them after becoming entangled in fishing gear. As Texas governor, Bush ignored pleas on behalf of sea turtles until early in his quest for the Republican nomination to run for President–but then closed 100 miles of Texas coast to shrimping during the nesting season for the endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle.

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