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White House removes protections for endangered species

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With just over a month remaining in office, the Bush administration loosened federal protection of plant and animal species threatened with extinction.

On Thursday, the Interior Department announced a change to Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act, which required federal agencies to consult with scientists at the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service to determine whether a project is likely to affect any listed species.

Under the new rule, federal agencies such as the Federal Highway Administration can in many cases simply check with their own personnel to determine if their activities will harm any of the 1,247  animal and 747 plant species listed as endangered or threatened.

“The rule strengthens the regulations so the government can focus on protecting endangered species as it strives to rebuild the American economy,” said Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne.

It started with the polar bears

The rule change has its origins in a May announcement by the Interior Department that listed the polar bear as threatened because global warming is melting its habitat. It was the first animal to be listed because of climate change.

In that announcement, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said that even though global climate change is the reason that the bear is on the endangered species list in the first place, that list is "not the means, nor the method, nor the vehicle by which you can deal with global climate change.”

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