Interior department sued for ‘secretive process’ in at-risk species assessment | US news

Environmental advocates are suing Donald Trump’s interior department for using what they call a secretive process that ignores science in refusing protections for at-risk species.

The Center for Biological Diversity says a new program called the Species Status Assessment bypasses findings from scientists and leaves protection decisions to career federal employees who are not experts and may be under pressure from their bosses.

“It’s like going into the hospital and having a team of doctors diagnose you and then leaving the decision up to the chief financial officer of the hospital about what treatment they’re going to pursue,” said Ryan Shannon, an attorney for the group. “There’s a disconnect here.”

Shannon said Trump officials are looking for “wiggle room” to deregulate.

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The administration last year declined to list the Pacific walrus as endangered, arguing that the long-tusked, mustachioed mammals could adapt to sea ice melting from climate change.

Additionally, two scientists have said they were rushed in assessing the threats from farming to the endangered American burying beetle and felt the interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service would conclude agriculture is not a risk regardless of what data they presented.

The interior department has eased species protections in other ways, including not automatically requiring the same efforts for threatened species as for endangered ones. It also is allowing more “incidental” killings of birds by industry.

The lawsuit, in district court in Washington DC, is in anticipation of similar decisions against species protection in the coming months, Shannon said.

The suit argues the department should have sought public comment on the program, according to the Endangered Species Act.

A Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman could not comment on litigation or immediately make staffers available to discuss the program.

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