The objection was filed in response to a proposed settlement, in the form of a consent decree, submitted to the court for approval by the National Marine Fisheries Service earlier this week. The Bush administration filed the consent decree to answer a lawsuit by the National Association of Homebuilders challenging designation of critical habitat for various salmon and steelhead species in four western states. Critical habitat designations give endangered and threatened species added protection and aid in their recovery.
The ESA requires that an economic analysis of the impact of designating the critical habitat be done. The Homebuilders lawsuit alleged this analysis was done in a faulty manner and argued the critical habitat designation should be lifted. Rather than defend the dwindling salmon stocks, NMFS agreed with the Homebuilders and submitted the consent decree that promises to rework the critical habitat designation but removes the current protections in the meantime. The objection filed by Earthjustice today asks the court not to approve the consent decree and instead keep the critical habitat designation in place in its current form while the administration reviews it. The objections also explain that there is no legal flaw in the current habitat designation in any event.
"The proposed consent decree tries to take a shortcut around the public notice and public comment that the law requires to designate or change critical habitat for an endangered species. In seeking a shortcut, the administration is cutting the public out of the process for protecting vanishing wildlife and irreplaceable Northwest wild salmon. Once again it is responding to powerful special interests at the expense of ordinary people and their future," said Todd True of Earthjustice.
"This settlement agreement confirms our worst fears," said Zeke Grader of PCFFA. The administration is backsliding on its obligation to protect the environment and nation's fisheries. Capitulation to special interests groups who only want to enrich themselves by developing the last remaining salmon habitat will only increase the already enormous economic losses to coastal salmon-dependent communities," said Grader.
"The Bush administration is yielding to corporate pressure over the wishes of the average American," said Doug Heiken of the Oregon Natural Resources Council.
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