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February 11th, 2011
Grijalva Questions Draft Dept. of Agriculture Proposal to Weaken Wildlife Protections, Reduce Species Decision-Making Accountability

Washington, D.C. – Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, ranking member of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, today questioned the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) proposed rule to reduce wildlife protections in place since 1982. The proposal would allow local forest supervisors to make critical decisions about wildlife management, reducing the role of federal experts and policymakers for the first time in almost 30 years.

Grijalva highlighted the fact that USDA has not explained why the rollback is beneficial or even necessary. As reported in the Washington Post Feb. 11: “In a briefing on the proposed rule, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke in broad terms about the proposal, saying it would provide ways to respond to threats such as plagues of pests that prey on trees, wildfire and climate change. Vilsack did not say specifically how the new plan improves on the original plan, which has been amended numerous times since its introduction in 1982.”

The article also cited National Forest System deputy director Joel Holtrop: “[L]ocal officials will have directions on how to protect wetlands, for example, but he acknowledged that the proposed rule ‘is not being explicit at how wide these protective corridors need to be.’”

“If we start with the basic question of why this is happening, and we can’t get an answer from USDA’s key wildlife people, then why should anyone in Congress support this proposal?” Grijalva said. “Wildlife protection needs to be strengthened, not left up to various interpretations of ‘local conditions.’ We know where that leads all too often: standards are weakened under pressure from industry, wildlife populations diminish, and critical habitat shrinks because no one is paying close attention at the top. This proposal needs to be rethought, and until it is I cannot support it.”

The draft proposal is the Forest Service’s fourth attempt since 2000 to revise national forest regulations. The Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and other groups successfully challenged the past three proposals in court. A Defenders of Wildlife analysis of the current proposal includes the following: “The previous rule required the Forest Service to maintain viable populations of all native and desired non-native animals; the proposed rule provides no such requirements for any animals. Instead, the Forest Service gives itself full discretion to determine what, if any, animals deserve protection. It also allows any given forest to determine whether or not it has the ability to meet a viability standard and provide protection.”

The proposal is subject to an open comment period until May 16. A public forum to discuss the proposal will take place in Phoenix later this year, although details are not yet available.

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