Senate Interior Appropriations Bill is another Attack on the Nation’s Wildlife and Public Lands Heritage

The Senate Appropriations Committee has passed a Department of the Interior appropriations bill riddled with anti-environmental amendments that threaten vital habitat in one of our nation’s iconic national wildlife refuges and endangered species like the gray wolf and sage-grouse. The bill also severely underfunds critical conservation programs including effectively freezing the budget for management of the National Wildlife Refuge System and undermining anti-wildlife trafficking programs. Senator Tom Udall [D-NM] submitted an amendment to strike the harmful riders from the bill, but the amendment did not pass.

One provision in the bill would force a land exchange and a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, turning 131 acres of designated wilderness habitat into a construction zone. Senator Lisa Murkowski [R-AK] has been pushing for this anti-national wildlife refuge rider for years, even though U.S. taxpayers have already paid over $50 million to provide a safe, reliable medical response system to the King Cove community that would be served by the road.    

The bill also includes a rider that overrides court rulings requiring that certain populations of gray wolves remain protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), circumventing the administrative scientific process established to protect imperiled species. In a party-line vote, the committee also approved an amendment from Senator Jerry Moran [R-KS] that would strip protections for the lesser prairie-chicken under the ESA. And yet another amendment blocks the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from making a decision to list the sage-grouse as threatened or endangered for yet another year. All of these provisions set a dangerous precedent for Congress repeatedly intervening in scientific matters regarding the biological status of species under the ESA.

The following is a statement from President and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife Jamie Rappaport Clark:

“This bill is more of the toxic legislation we’ve sadly come to expect from this Congress. Anti-conservation lawmakers are taking every opportunity they can to weaken or block wildlife protections and seize the pristine habitat we lose more and more of every year. It’s shameful that some Senators are using their position to undermine and degrade the conservation laws their predecessors worked so hard to put in place.

“Senator Murkowski’s insistence on destroying irreplaceable wilderness wetlands in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska is particularly disturbing. Millions of taxpayers’ dollars   have already been spent on other solutions to provide for safe medical travel for the King Cove community. At a time when Congress is aggressively pursuing spending cuts throughout the federal budget, it is shocking that Senator Murkowski would ask for even greater contributions from American taxpayers.

“Combined with severe funding shortfalls and endangered species riders, which echo poisonous riders in the House Interior appropriations bill, this legislation is a recipe for disaster. We commend Senator Udall for stepping up and trying to halt these riders. Ultimately, President Obama will need to stand up for wildlife and public lands conservation and strip all anti-wildlife riders from the bill. Such blatant and aggressive attacks on our natural heritage should not be tolerated.”

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Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org and follow us on Twitter @defendersnews.