A tale of two press releases


Yet another last minute rule change has come down from the Bush administration. It hasn't hit the mainstream press yet -- the only information that's been published about it comes from the BLM itself and from a coalition of environmental groups.

The press releases describe the BLM's recent revisions to a manual that tells land managers how to handle rare and federally endangered species. Naturally, they offer vastly different takes on the meaning of those changes.

The release from the Center for Biological Diversity and Center for Native Ecosystems is titled: Land Management Changes Undermine Wildlife Conservation on Public Lands.

The federal agency heads its release: BLM Announces New Guidance Enhancing the Protection and Recovery of Rare Species on 258 Million Acres of Federal Lands. (Oh, and despite the fact that the previous link goes to something called the Hurricane Valley Journal, in Utah, it's not an actual news story, it's just a reprint of the press release. Shame on the Journal.)

In the releases themselves, the enviros say:

Among the sweeping changes to the Bureau of Land Management Special Status Species Manual are new policy directives that undermine protections for endangered and threatened plants, limit efforts to protect those species officially awaiting protection under the Endangered Species Act, make it prohibitively difficult to protect sensitive species found in multiple states, and eliminate some protections for state-protected species found on federal lands.

While the BLM says:

... the revised policies will assist the agency in focusing its efforts on those rare species where BLM actions can most effectively contribute to successful conservation. In addition to those species designated by the BLM as Bureau sensitive, the BLM will treat as Bureau sensitive all federally designated candidate species, as well as delisted species in the five years following their delisting.

The enviros say:

The changes to the Bureau of Land Management’s manual weaken the agency’s commitment to keeping some populations of rare species from falling so low they require the protection of the Endangered Species Act to prevent extinction.  In Colorado, 35 species, including kit fox, swift fox, river otters, sandhill cranes, and burrowing owls, would lose protection under this provision of the BLM’s policy manual. In California, hundreds of State listed species could loose (sic) protection on federal public lands including the wolverine and the Great grey owl.

While the BLM says:

The BLM’s special status species policies set forth the procedures by which ("Bureau sensitive") species will be managed to ensure their recovery or promote their conservation so that protections afforded under the ESA or BLM policy are no longer warranted.

But the agency's release says nothing about keeping those species off the endangered list in the first place.

So, whose press release has the higher degree of "truthiness"? The green groups tend to exaggerate the dire consequences of policy changes. But given the Bush administration's many other attempts to make harmful new rules seem benign, I'd vote for the enviros. It looks like these changes will result in even more species becoming candidates for the federal endangered list, because they'll no longer get special protection when they're listed just at the state level. And, in keeping with other recent ESA changes, this new guidance apparently also lets industry avoid mandatory consultations with wildlife experts about projects that might harm endangered species.

And just in case the public objects, say the green groups:

In a rare but telling move, the manual change includes citations to several court cases where BLM avoided obligations under the Endangered Species Act.Though not a common addition to BLM’s operating manuals, these citations seem designed to provide federal land managers with justification for scaling back their protective efforts on behalf of at-risk wildlife and plants.

Always good to have ammo.

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