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BioBlitz: An Answer to Government Inaction

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The nation's endangered wildlife and plants haven't seen much change from the Obama administration. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar - the man tasked with preventing extinction of species in the U.S. - has so far utterly failed to enforce the Endangered Species Act.

Ken, you're flirting with previous Interior Secretaries Gale Norton and Dirk Kempthorne, both of whom were sworn enemies of environmental protection, for the title of worst-ever on endangered species.

In 2009, Secretary Salazar protected just two new U.S. species under the law, despite more than 330 species formally awaiting listing. Until they're officially "listed" under the Endangered Species Act, species on the brink do not benefit from any of this law's protections. Once formally designated as threatened or endangered, they have a 99% chance of being spared from extinction.

WildEarth Guardians is responding to the government's inaction with our "BioBlitz", which started yesterday (December 28), on the 36th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act. With a lawsuit yesterday, and a petition today, we've begun 36 consecutive days of actions for species across the nation to force Secretary Salazar to use our endangered species law.

We're pressing the government to enforce the Act because it works. It is the reason that bald eagles still grace our skies; wolves and grizzles roam at least some of their homeland; and black-footed ferrets haven't gone extinct (see the Huffington Post's Comeback Kids feature). Protection for imperiled species is vital not only for these charismatic species, but to heed the early warnings that species on the brink provide, letting us know when we are overstepping nature's bounds.

But over the past week, Salazar's Fish and Wildlife Service has stated simultaneously that they're unable to work on listing more species because of being battered by lawsuits (a tired excuse) but they're going to spend time on "wide-ranging revisions" to the Endangered Species Act to make the law work better. Stated Greenwire:

The Fish and Wildlife Service is considering wide-ranging revisions to the 1973 Endangered Species Act, the agency director said in an interview last week.

My question is whether the agency wouldn't better spend its time buckling down and granting protection to the many species in need rather than trying to overhaul a law with an A-plus record?

Yesterday, Valerie Fellows, a Service spokesperson, said the agency would finalize listings for at least 50 species in the coming year. Sound like a large number? Let's put this in perspective: it is less than 1/6th of the backlog of endangered species formally awaiting protection. This meager number further ignores the thousands of endangered species in this country that have yet to be put in the queue for protection.

While 50 listings would be a step in the right direction, it's simply not enough, and shows that endangered species just aren't a priority for this administration at all.

The BioBlitz is our attempt to force the Fish and Wildlife Service to get its priorities straight.

2009-12-29-PlanetaryBoundaries.jpg

Image from: Rockstrom et al. (2009). "A Safe Operating Space for Humanity." Nature 461 (September 24, 2009) 472-475. Available online. The inner green shading represents the proposed safe operating space for nine planetary systems. The red wedges represent an estimate of the current position for each variable. The boundaries in three systems (rate of biodiversity loss, climate change and human interference with the nitrogen cycle), have already been exceeded.