On the heels of the Yellowstone grizzly bear delisting, which was touted by many as proof of the Endangered Species Act’s efficacy, Rebecca Clarren of the online magazine reported Tuesday that a leaked Bush Administration draft proposal recommends sweeping changes to the landmark 1973 law that would radically curtail it’s powers to protect imperiled fish and wildlife.

Clarren broke the story as follows:

_The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is maneuvering to fundamentally weaken the Endangered Species Act, its strategy laid out in an internal 117-page draft proposal obtained by Salon. The proposed changes limit the number of species that can be protected and curtail the acres of wildlife habitat to be preserved. It shifts authority to enforce the act from the federal government to the states, and it dilutes legal barriers that protect habitat from sprawl, logging or mining.

“The proposed changes fundamentally gut the intent of the Endangered Species Act,” says Jan Hasselman, a Seattle attorney with Earthjustice, an environmental law firm, who helped Salon interpret the proposal. “This is a no-holds-barred end run around one of America’s most popular environmental protections. If these regulations stand up, the act will no longer provide a safety net for animals and plants on the brink of extinction._”

With everyone from major news outlets to bloggers picking up the story, headlines, updates, spin, and even accusations are flying. On the more inflammatory end, there’s this characterization from

Actually, “gut” really isn’t descriptive enough to do justice to what [the Bush Administration is] getting geared up for. They are getting set to completely eviscerate the act. Basically, their plan is to take the thing, slit it up the middle, dump all the internal organs onto the ground and jump up and down on them. Then they’re going to stuff the carcass of the Endangered Species Act with straw, and drag it around with them in a Weekend-at-Bernie’s-esque attempt to maintain some sort of environmental credibility.

On the other side of the coin, most mainstream reports include perspective from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel, including from NPR:

“It’s really a starting point, a beginning of a process,” [USFWS director Dale Hall] says. “It’s not one that represents any of the latest thinking that we have.”

And from the San Diego Union Tribune:

“We haven’t made any secret about our desire to make some improvements,” said Chris Tollefson at the Fish and Wildlife Service in Washington, D.C. “What we tried to do in the last couple of months was get our senior staff to . . . look at what we could do as an agency . . . to really move forward and make progress. . . .
“We are not going to try to sneak anything under the radar,” he said.

Needless to day, these explanations are disputed.

So what do you think is going on? Is the Bush Administration trying to pull a fast one? Is the media blowing it out of proportion? Maybe a little of both? Write your comments below.