News Analysis:Is The Endangered Species Program Working?

Although the bald eagle was just taken off the Endangered Species list, hundreds of other animal species are near extinction. That's according to government scientists and environmental groups. Ann Murray joins Matthew Craig to talk about why critics say the Endangered Species program is floundering.

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OPEN: Although the bald eagle was just taken off the Endangered Species list, hundreds of other animal species are near extinction. That's according to government scientists and environmental groups. Ann Murray is here to talk about why critics say the Endangered Species program is floundering.

M: The return of the bald eagle population was big news. So now we're hearing that other animals are in trouble.

A: Yes. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal agency that's charged with protecting animals under the Endangered Species Act, there are about 280 animal species that are nearly extinct that haven't made it on the Endangered Species list. And about 200 of the 1300 animals on the list are close to dying off.

M: Why is that?

A: The Los Angeles Times describes the problem as one that starts in the White House and ends up in the US Fish and Wildlife Service . The paper says the agency has "sunk into legal, political, bureaucratic turmoil."

M: OK. What's going on legally that's slowing down the recovery of nearly 500 animal species?

A: The Bush administration has only added 58 animals to the list - that's the fewest number of animals since the law was enacted in 1973. And almost all of those species were added because various groups sued the government. Because groups have had to resort to taking the federal government to court, a lot of time and money has been lost in legal wrangling.

M: What about other groups that are trying to get animals off the protected list? Are they in lawsuits?

A: Sure. Some of these groups like timber companies, utilities, farm bureaus are going through the courts, too.

M: What's going on bureaucratically that's making it hard to help animals recover their numbers?

A: The budget for the US Fish and Wildlife Service has been cut by 15% and the current 2008 budget calls for a 28% cut.

M: How has that affected the Endangered Species program?

A: It takes a lot of money -billions to save mating pairs of animals, guard and conserve habitats . And lots of staff. About 1/3 of the staff has been cut.

M: The current staff has been hit pretty hard with infighting.

A: Yes. According to a recent report from the Interior Department's Inspector General's office, decisions about which animals to add or take off the list have been really influenced by Bush appointees who have close ties to industry. Julie McDonald, who was a deputy director of the Interior Department, resigned after it was uncovered that she had scientists change some of their findings and shared information with energy lobbyists.

M: There have also been allegations that Vice President Dick Cheney interfered with the recovery program of coho
salmon in California's Klamouth River.

A: The Washington Post did a series of articles saying in 2002, Vice President Cheney objected to the amount of water withheld in the Klamouth River to save the fish, so it was diverted for irrigation. Around 70,000 salmon died. Apparently Nick Rahall, the Democrat from WV who's the head of the House Natural Resources committee is going to hold hearings on this.

M: How does the US Fish and Wildlife Service respond to all of these budget and staff reductions and allegations of political misconduct.

A: No real comments on political misconduct but the agency has said they're doing what they can under a wartime budget. The agency points out that 15 species have been taken off the list under this administration and they're trying to get states, private landowners and conservation groups to conserve habitat and otherwise work to save endangered species.

M: Thanks, Ann.

A: You're welcome.