Today, The HSUS, the Idaho Conservation League, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Defenders of Wildlife, and more than 150 other groups called on President Obama to block a series of anticipated riders that would put dozens of our most iconic threatened and endangered species in the crosshairs. These riders, expected on an end-of-year Congressional spending bill, are likely to cross the President’s desk in December. A number of lawmakers, including several in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, are trying to remove gray wolves from the list of protected species, as a way of enabling state authorities and trophy hunters and commercial trappers to kill them by the hundreds. It’s not only bad policy, but it’s bad process – specifically to subvert either or both the science-based work of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the critical process of judicial review for delisting actions by that same agency.
Last week I blogged about a bill from Senator Ron Johnson, R-WI, to remove federal protections under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for gray wolves in the Great Lakes region and Wyoming. This is just one of over 80 legislative proposals filed in the last 11 months aimed at weakening protections for species under the provisions of the ESA. It’s an all-out assault, and it’s precisely the sort of backroom, overreaching political activity that fosters so much cynicism among the American electorate. If you want to kill endangered species, go through regular order and try to pass your bill through committees and by the full House and Senate and then the President. Don’t hitch it to and hide it within a $1 trillion spending bill that lawmakers don’t even have time to comb through. That’s dirty politics, and it’s no way to run a government. Only in the corridors of Washington is that kind of chicanery and skullduggery a sort of acceptable outcome.
There are provisions for the “omnibus” spending bill being considered that limit the ability of the ESA to function, and others that are species-specific and would remove protections for the lesser prairie-chicken, delay protections for the greater sage-grouse, and defund attempts to protect the Sonoran desert turtle. And then there are those that mirror Senator Johnson’s wolf delisting bill, removing ESA protections for gray wolves in vast portions of their current range and turning their fate over to states that want to slaughter them.
In our letter, we ask President Obama to “reject all riders on final spending legislation for Fiscal Year 2016 that would undermine the Endangered Species Act and put individual species at risk of extinction.” Recently, 92 U.S. representatives, led by Representative Raul Grijalva, D-AZ, and 25 U.S. senators, led by Senators Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Barbara Boxer, D-CA, sent similar letters to the President. That bill is no place for these kinds of sneak attacks on the ESA.
On December 28, 1973, President Richard Nixon signed the ESA into law after it had overwhelmingly passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 355-4. The bill has become one of our bedrock environmental laws; one we can thank for keeping the American bald eagle, the whooping crane, and the black-footed ferret from being driven to extinction. In the 42 years that it’s been around, it has helped prevent the extinction of 99 percent of the species placed under its protection.
An overwhelming majority of Americans – 90 percent according to a June 2015 poll – support the ESA, and, as we state in the letter, it is the most important law our nation has ever passed to protect species at risk of extinction.
The fact is that the challenges that confront us today are far greater than they were 40 years ago, when the ESA was passed, and if anything, we need to strengthen, not weaken, its provisions. As the letter states, “We face the reality of climate change and other enormous threats to our planet’s biodiversity—which in turn threaten our own survival as a species.” Science tells us that as many as 30 to 50 percent of all species could be heading toward extinction by mid-century. It is important that we prevent a gang of lawmakers, acting on behalf of special interests, from bringing further grief and mischief to these rarest of animals.