By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson
During the past year and a half, the Trump administration and the 115th Congress have launched over a hundred attacks on the Endangered Species Act, the bedrock law that protects endangered and threatened animal species and their habitats. Today, the administration dealt the latest body blow to this law by proposing changes that would weaken it and make it harder to secure federal protections for endangered and threatened species.
Under today’s proposal, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service would establish additional roadblocks to securing comprehensive protections for threatened species. The administration also wants to make the process of removing species from the ESA easier.
This death-by-a-thousand-cuts approach aims to extinguish one of the country’s most effective and popular statutes, on which the survival of so many wildlife species depends. The ESA has saved more than 99 percent of listed species from going extinct. This results in part from the statute’s flexibility and the collaboration it facilitates among federal, state, tribal and local officials. The ESA enjoys wide support with the American public too. A 2015 poll by Tulchin Research found that 90 percent of Americans, including 82 percent of self-described conservatives, support upholding the ESA. Another study by Hart Research Associates from 2016 found that 70 percent of Americans oppose removing ESA protections from threatened species such as gray wolves and sage-grouse.
We are grateful that the administration will not apply any of these regulations retroactively to previous decisions for species receiving protections under the ESA, but there is little doubt about what’s going on with this proposal. It’s an attempt to decimate the effectiveness of the ESA, plain and simple.
Congress has launched its own attacks on the ESA, and on Tuesday, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held a hearing to discuss a draft bill, authored by EPW Committee Chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyo., to gut the ESA’s efficacy and harm conservation organizations’ ability to enforce the law’s protections. The proposal contains many damaging provisions, including turning over much ESA decision-making authority to the states
Unfortunately, states do not always prioritize wildlife protection, as we saw when gray wolves and grizzly bears lost federal ESA protections in Wyoming and the states promptly declared trophy hunting seasons on these animals. The bill also would make litigation over ESA listing and delisting more difficult.
A similar attack surfaced in the House when the Congressional Western Caucus oversaw the introduction of nine bills assailing various aspects of the ESA. One of the bills allows information provided by states, tribes or localities to constitute the “best available science” regardless of its quality or scientific merit, for making ESA decisions. Another bill makes it easier for the Fish and Wildlife Service to dismiss ESA-listing petitions without thorough evaluation.
Keeping the Endangered Species Act strong is critical if we are to ensure that threatened and endangered animals, including species like the bald eagle, the grizzly bear and African lions and elephants, do not go extinct. The Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society Legislative Fund are at the forefront of the battle to protect the ESA, but we need your help. The administration and your congressional delegation need to hear that you don’t support a dismantling of our nation’s cornerstone law designed to protect and save iconic wildlife, in the United States and around the world. The ESA is essential to the protection of animals, and we’re doing our best to turn back threats to its integrity and efficacy. And so can you.
Let the administration know that you strongly oppose a dismantling of our nation’s cornerstone law designed to protect and save iconic wildlife in the United States and around the world by leaving a comment here. Here is some suggested language for your comment: “The proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service would weaken ESA regulations by making it harder to secure and maintain federal protections for imperiled species. The FWS and NMFS should keep existing ESA protections to save threatened and endangered animals from extinction.”
Sara Amundson is President of the Humane Society Legislative Fund