Action Tuesday!

The Washington Post reported yesterday that politics rather than science guided decisions about threatened and endangered species and habitats under Bush and his appointees:

investigators found that she had tampered with scientific evidence, improperly removed species and habitats from the endangered-species list, and gave internal documents to oil industry lobbyists and property rights groups.

We’ve known about this sort of thing for awhile, but the WP found that it was much more common than previously believed.

It’s absolutely horrible that scientific evidence and reports were tampered with here and across the board by the Bush administration.  Luckily, we won’t have to worry about that at all anymore at the Department of the Interior, though!  The Bush administration just changed the rules:

Under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S.  Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service provided advice on whether government projects would pose a threat to endangered species. Today’s rule change eliminated this scientific review process, giving full decision on the risk of a project to the Department of the Interior.

That’s right, it doesn’t matter what the scientists say.  Their input is no longer required.  The Endangered Species Act has been officially gutted in the last days of this administration.

Why is this important?  Well, even with all our nifty technology, we still depend on the environment and the other organisms in it for our own survival.  Even if the latest sea snail species extinction doesn’t break your heart, you can at least appreciate the fact that the incredible chemical compounds it produced that may have been medically valuable are now gone forever.

And it should make you nervous that scientists worry we’re in the midst of the greatest extinction of all time – even worse than the Permian-Triassic extinction when 96% of all marine species and 70% of terrestrial vertebrates kicked the bucket:

The most troubling figures, however, come not from the total species lost but the rate at which they’re vanishing: 1,000 times faster than usual.

And you should be terrified to learn that that’s probably a huge underestimate:

According to a paper recently published in Nature, modeling errors led scientists to grossly underestimate the survival chances of threatened species.

“The older models could be severely overestimating the time to extinction,” said University of Colorado ecologist and Nature study co-author Brett Melbourne to the Guardian. “Some species could go extinct 100 times sooner than we expect.”

It’s scary and it’s heartbreaking.

Sexton Mountain mariposa lily

Sexton Mountain mariposa lily

This is the Sexton Mountain mariposa lily.  It’s now extinct.  It used to be found on wet rocky slopes in parts of Oregon.  Yes, it’s just a flower and maybe not even a very important one ecologically.  But when you add up all of these small extinctions you get a very big effect.  And doesn’t it make you just a little bit sad that you’ll never see this plant on a hike?

Go! Write your senators and representatives.  Tell them not only to fix the Endangered Species Act, but to make environmental and climate change issues a priority.