Ecologists and philosophers across the nation are protesting a new and narrowed definition of "endangered species."
In a letter sent Monday to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, and the House Committee on Natural Resources, they warn that the new definitionspelled out in a legal opinion from the Solicitor of the U.S. Department of the Interior in Marchwill substantially weaken the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973.
Wolves, grizzly bears, and jaguars are among the species that could be hurt by the new definition, which limits endangered species to those simply "at risk of extinction." The scientists and philosophers protesting the ruling say that the original law defined an endangered species as one "at risk of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range."
"It is clear that Congress intended 'range' to be the historic or former range of the animal," said John A.Vucetich, an assistant professor of population ecology in the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science at Michigan Technological University, Houghton, Michigan. "That makes the Act restorative and very powerful, as Congress intended. The new ruling defines range as 'current range.' That means the Act can't be used to expand the existing range, even if that is necessary for the viability of a species."
"The proposed rule would have allowed our national symbol, the bald eagle, to become extinct in the lower 48 states, surviving only in Alaska, and it would have allowed the gray whale to become extinct in U.S. waters," Vucetich went on to say.
Vucetich and Michael P. Nelson, associate professor of environmental philosophy and ethics at Michigan State University, have collected 38 signatures on the letter protesting the newly restricted definition of "endangered" or "threatened" species.