WASHINGTON – Interior Secretary Dirk
Kempthorne said Friday he has scrapped a proposal that
critics said would protect fewer rare plants and animals
Kempthorne said that while he doesn't think Congress
should change the Endangered Species Act, the department
is still looking for ways to change how the law is
in March had made public a draft of rule changes the
Interior Department was considering that they said would
reduce the number of species that could be saved. They
said the draft changes were so broad they amounted to
gutting the program.
“That predated me. I've put a stop to that,”
Kempthorne said during a lunch with a small group of
reporters marking his first anniversary as interior
secretary. He did not elaborate on what kind of changes
are still under review.
Noah Greenwald, a biologist in Portland, Ore., for
the Center for Biological Diversity, said he remains
concerned that the department is considering regulatory
changes that will make it easier to remove some animals,
such as the gray wolf, from the protection of the law or
make it harder to list a specie that is at risk.
Under one change proposed in the earlier draft, it
would no longer be considered important to protect the
historic range of a specie – only its current location.
That could keep the increasingly rare Pacific Fisher, a
mink-like creature, from being reintroduced in areas of
the Northwest where it once thrived, and increase its
likelihood of extinction, said Greenwald.
“Kempthorne has been a disaster for endangered
species,” maintained Greenwald. He said that while 279
species have been declared “candidates” for listing as
endangered, and three have been recommended for
“emergency” listing, none has been added since
Kempthorne became secretary.
Kempthorne said Fish and Wildlife Service officials
are frustrated that the federal law has not protected
more species and that rules implementing it need
“We're seriously looking at that,” said Kempthorne.
He did not provide further details except to say he
though more emphasis should be given to recovery “so
that we do not wait until you're at a point where a
species is on the brink.”
On other matters, Kempthorne said that lessons
learned two years ago, when hurricanes Katrina and Rita
devastated oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico,
might help to prepare for the upcoming hurricane season.
But he could not say the region is less vulnerable to
disruptions than two years ago.
“It depends on the hurricane,” said Kempthorne. “Our
intent would be that we would limit disruptions.”
Several federal agencies, including Interior, and the
oil industry have planned a briefing next week to
outline what steps have been taken to improve safeguards
of Gulf oil and gas structures and ways they hope to
keep oil and gas flowing if a storm hits.
In other matters discussed with reporters, Kempthorne
department has created a special task force to examine
how climate change might impact species survival and
other issues under its jurisdiction, such as the impact
warming would have on water supplies.
national parks need to be modernized, using interactive
technologies that allow people, especially youngsters,
to learn more about the parks when they visit.
is concerned that “drug cartels” peddling amphetamines
are targeting remote American Indian reservations,
adding to the drug problem among Native Americans. He
said he intends to increase the number of drug
enforcement agents to try to deal with the problem.