Keep Your Paws Off: Three Ways Congress is Preying on Endangered Species Protections

July 5, 2018 | 12:41 pm
The endangered marbled murrelet.Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service
Charise Johnson
Former Contributor

It seems there is a doggedly persistent contingent of lawmakers in Congress whose life goals include defunding, weakening, ignoring, and overhauling endangered species protections. Their tactics are varied: sidelining science in favor of industry interests, attaching harmful riders to “must-pass” spending bills, and introducing legislation whose insidious intentions are masked by semantics. Here is a quick rundown of current endangered species attacks:

  • Last week, the Union of Concerned Scientists sent a letter to the House Conference Committee for the National Defense Authorization (NDAA) asking them to oppose Utah Representative Rob Bishop’s anti-science rider from being included in the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2019. The amendment arbitrarily blocks federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for the endangered or threatened American burying beetle, sage grouse, and lesser prairie chicken. In this case, decisions to assign protective measures to vulnerable wildlife are determined at the behest of short-term political interests (i.e. oil and gas development), thereby violating the science-based process by which the ESA successfully operates.
  • This past Monday, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Senator John Barrasso introduced draft legislation to “strengthen” and “modernize” the Endangered Species Act. It moves to allow states greater authority over endangered species decisions, including listing, delisting, species recovery plans, and habitat conservation. Why is this a bad move? State resource constraints, insufficient laws, lack of political will, and final veto power over scientific decisions are among the most notable concerns. Considering that Senator Barrasso had the support of the Western Governors’ Association, it isn’t a stretch to be worried about states taking concerted efforts to dismiss species protections in the name of development.
  • The House Interior and Environment and House Energy & Water appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2019 both contain poison-pill riders that would prohibit the listing of the imperiled greater sage grouse and remove protections for red wolves and Mexican gray wolves.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has prevented the extinction of 99 percent of the species listed since its inception in 1973. Despite the Endangered Species Act’s many successes over the years, there are those who have trouble seeing past their own immediate interests. These attacks on the Endangered Species Act are not new, but they are as urgent as ever. Please tell your members of Congress to oppose any anti-science riders affecting endangered species. If you are a scientist, consider joining almost 1500 other scientists in signing on to our letter to Congress.

I would like to acknowledge and thank my colleague Anthony Gutierrez, legislative associate for the Center, for his legislative research and input.