Politicking Instead of Protecting Wildlife
Defenders leads the fight to defeat House bill attacking ESA
It targeted some of the country’s most vulnerable species—walruses, wolves, wolverines, lynx and many other imperiled wildlife, and it would have eviscerated the Endangered Species Act (ESA). But in a huge victory this July, wildlife champions on both sides of the aisle in the House of Representatives struck down the so-called “extinction rider” by a vote of 224 to 202, with 37 House Republicans supporting the measure.
The rider, attached to the House Interior Appropriations Bill, would have prevented the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) from listing new species under the act, despite a backlog of more than 260 candidate species. It also would have prevented FWS from designating critical habitat for species recovery and from upgrading species from threatened to endangered.
“The bipartisan opposition said it all,” says Robert Dewey, Defenders’ vice president for government relations. “This extinction rider was tacked on to a budget bill, but it wasn’t about saving money for taxpayers at all. It was about fulfilling a wish list for Big Oil, developers and other special interests who oppose the ESA.”
The ESA is one of our nation’s most significant and successful conservation laws. Enacted almost 40 years ago, it has proved instrumental in saving hundreds of species from extinction—not only the bald eagle, which was removed from the endangered species list in 2007 after its numbers in the continental United States rebounded, but also the grizzly bear, the gray wolf, the black-footed ferret and more. Only 10 of nearly 2,000 imperiled types of plants and animals protected under the act have gone extinct—a success rate of more than 99 percent.
But even with these successes—and the latest significant win to protect it—the ESA remains under siege, and the conservation community is bracing for more battles. As this issue goes to press, 15 bills are pending to drastically undercut or dramatically weaken the ESA. Many are promoted under the guise of revitalizing the economy or reducing the size of government—even though funding for endangered species protection is less than 1/100 of 1 percent of the federal budget.
The ESA is already one of the nation’s most flexible federal laws. For example, between 1998 and 2004, less than 1 percent of 429,533 development projects were initially held up because of endangered species considerations. Of those, only one project was permanently halted. The rest moved forward with modifications that minimized impacts to wildlife.
Here’s a sampling of at what’s at stake.
Mexican Gray Wolves
Only one wild population of about 50 exists in the world. The proposal to block funding for the species’ protection would likely doom the population to extinction.
Sand Dunes Lizard
Legislation to block funding to protect this species is an attempt to make it easier for energy companies to drill in the lizard’s remaining habitat in New Mexico and Texas.
House leaders want to amend the ESA so that bluefin tuna can’t be protected. This species is caught at rates that outpace its ability to reproduce. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a bluefin breeding ground, put the population in additional jeopardy.