"The Bush administration is trying to make it legal to drive wildlife species toward extinction in the national forests," said Earthjustice lawyer Tim Preso. "We don't think that is right, and we intend to stop them."
The lawsuit challenges a September 29, 2004, Bush administration rule that attempted to rescind environmental protection regulations that have been in place since 1982 under the authority of the National Forest Management Act. Congress passed the NFMA in 1976 to reform the Forest Service and to ensure that the agency give due consideration to non-timber resources, such as recreation, wildlife, and water. The NFMA regulations targeted by the Bush administration include the critical legal requirement that national forests be managed to maintain viable wildlife populations. This rule supports populations of popular game species such as elk, moose, and black bear, and helps keep sensitive and rare species off the endangered species list by identifying and correcting wildlife population declines before species become imperiled.
The Reagan administration adopted this wildlife viability protection in response to declines in the population and range of many species caused by the routine approval of logging and other development projects that did not take the need to conserve wildlife into account. The Bush administration's attempt to repeal the NFMA wildlife protection threatens a future in which rare species will once again dwindle and disappear from the national forests.
"The commitment to sustain wildlife on public lands should be standard practice, but is apparently unacceptable to the Bush administration, which appears to view wildlife solely as an impediment to logging, drilling, and mining," said Mike Leahy of Defenders of Wildlife.
The Bush administration provided no notice or opportunity for public comment in connection with the September 29 rule, as required by law. Instead, claiming its action was merely a legal interpretation of prior policies, the Bush administration said no public involvement was necessary and sought to make its repeal of decades-old wildlife protections effective immediately. Today's lawsuit challenges the Bush administration's failure to involve the public before unilaterally deciding that wildlife extinctions in American's national forests are acceptable.
"The Bush administration tried to use its old tricks of quietly tinkering with the fine print to gut environmental regulations, hoping no one would notice," said Mike Anderson of The Wilderness Society. "But we noticed and we are going to do something about it."
The lawsuit -– entitled Defenders of Wildlife v. Veneman and filed today in the U.S. District Court for northern California -– asks a federal judge to invalidate the Bush administration's September 29 rule and make clear that the NFMA regulations, including the critical wildlife viability requirement, remain in effect.