Valentine’s Day. It’s the time of year where we, as a nation, spend an exorbitant amount of money on roses, heart-shaped chocolates, and oversized teddy bears. In 2017, America spent $18.2 billion (an average of $136.57 per person) on gifts to show their affection for that special someone.
In contrast, the federal government designated about $1.5 billion to the entire US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) last year—out of which only $240 million went to Ecological Services (the office responsible for administering the Endangered Species Act) and a mere 20.5 million went toward the listing of endangered species. While the budget was settled in time to avoid a shutdown last week, that doesn’t mean we’re in the clear. The appropriations race will be on to designate how exactly the money will be spent, which means there are sure to be some sneaky anti-science provisions.
Congress’s poison arrows
Endangered species protections are under constant threat from politically motivated decisions. The recent border wall construction waivers, opening of large swaths of critical habitat to oil and gas leasing, and legislative attacks in the form of “poison pill” budget riders all undermine protective, science-based statutes like the Endangered Species Act.
This year’s spending legislation contains several riders that would remove federal protections for the following species:
- Preble’s meadow jumping mouse—True love is hard to find…but so is the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse, found only in Colorado and Wyoming. The diminutive mouse is currently protected as a threatened subspecies, though not without controversy.
- Sage grouse—The sage grouse is no stranger to heartache. As I’ve mentioned in the past, the sage grouse cannot catch a break. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) under Secretary Zinke reopened the sage grouse management plan for public comment last year, despite years of collaborative efforts to create the plan to keep the bird off the endangered species list. Its delicate sagebrush habitat is also at risk of being destroyed by oil and gas development. And now, yet again, there is a rider that would prohibit the FWS from even considering the sage grouse as a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act.
- Gray wolf—The gray wolf populations in Idaho and Montana (and parts of Washington, Utah, and Oregon) had their endangered species protections unceremoniously removed in 2011. The gray wolf remained listed in Wyoming until 2012, after which it was put under state management. It was subsequently relisted in 2014, and again delisted in 2017. The riders would make it such that 1) the delisting rule of 2011 would apply to the state of Wyoming and the Great Lakes states, and 2) the gray wolf would be prohibited from receiving any funds for protections under the Endangered Species Act.
- Lesser prairie chicken—This rider would prohibit the use of federal funds for listing the lesser prairie chicken as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The lesser prairie chicken’s numbers have dwindled over the years because of climate change and habitat fragmentation, destruction, and degradation, and will require increased protections to make a full recovery. Let’s not let Congress stop protections for the chicken that danced its way into our hearts.
- North Carolina red wolf—The recovery program for the red wolf began in 1967, after its populations were drastically reduced due to predator control programs and human activity, but its population has not yet recovered. This rider would end the recovery program for the red wolf, effectively declaring it extinct. Captive breeding of the red wolf has brought the total population to about 250.
Roses are red, violets are blue; these species are in danger, here’s what you can do
These “poison pill” riders insert another level of political interference into science-based protections, actions that could lead to the destruction of essential habitat and otherwise preventable species extinctions. This year, I propose we show our love and our federal dollars to endangered species by supporting the Endangered Species Act and rejecting damaging riders to appropriations bills.
If you’re a scientist, you can join forces with over 950 other scientists and sign on to a letter asking Congress to reject efforts to gut the science-based law, and you can also check out our toolkit and accompanying webinar for more information on how to get engaged in advocacy around the Endangered Species Act. And any science supporter out there can show their love for endangered species by reaching out to your members of Congress and asking them not to support any anti-science riders and to increase funding for endangered species. Extra candy hearts for those who mention species in your state that are affected by the law—making your comment relevant locally means your decisionmaker has more cause to oppose these riders.
I would like to acknowledge and thank my colleague Anthony Gutierrez, legislative associate for the Center, for his legislative acumen and input.