Omnibus Budget Deal De-Rails Congressional "Stealth" Campaign Against Wildlife(04/25/1996) - Washington, D.C: After months of struggle, conservation groups have succeeded in their battle to bring the "stealth" attack against natural resources out into the public eye by defusing most anti-environmental riders on appropriations bills. Defenders of Wildlife says that in the deal struck by the President today on the final omnibus bill, most of the riders that would have inflicted irreparable damage to wildlife and wildlife habitat will be suspended.
"We applaud the President for holding firm these long months. I hope that the anti- environmental elements in this Congress have learned a valuable lesson," said Rodger Schlickeisen, President of Defenders of Wildlife. "Their attempt to impose an extreme environmental agenda through the budget process was opposed by the majority of the American public and now, fortunately, has failed miserably."
Although some of the harmful riders still remain in the bill, the President has won and is expected to exercise the authority to suspend through waivers the riders that have imposed a moratorium on Endangered Species Act (ESA) listings and threatened the Tongass National Forest of Alaska. Moreover, the budget deal dropped the Hatfield-Gorton rider to increase logging in sensitive forest areas. However, the deal failed to remove a rider that suspends environmental and cultural laws protecting Arizona's Mount Graham.
Schlickeisen noted that, "It is too bad that Congress did not have the courage to stand up to special interests and remove the ESA moratorium themselves, but we thank President Clinton for sending the extinction rider into extinction. The battle for wildlife, however, is not over, and we trust he will exercise his waiver authority. We also hope he will continue to use the massive public support for the environment as further leverage to save Mount Graham and the endangered ancient forests of America."
The ESA "Extinction Rider", in place since April 1995, imposed a moratorium on the protection of any new species or habitat under the ESA. More than 500 species such as the Florida black bear, Atlantic salmon, and jaguar have slipped ever closer to the irrevocable finality of extinction as a result of the moratorium. While the waiver will allow the Fish and Wildlife Service to again list new species for protection under the ESA, there are still concerns about the backlog of species in need of help and the amount of funding provided to address listing needs.
"After many meetings with the Interior Department, the White House, and Members of Congress, I am very relieved to see the extinction rider lifted. It is unfortunate that the amount appropriated for the listing program is so small, only $4 million. The real cost of listing is measured by the ecological impact of waiting until the last minute to protect endangered and threatened wildlife," said Schlickeisen.
The Tongass National Forest in Alaska is the world's largest remaining temperate rainforest. The Tongass rider would have been devastating to native wildlife such as the brown bear, Northern Goshawk, and Alexander Archipelago wolf by allowing a cut 44 percent higher than the ten-year average for the next year, and it would have prevented the implementation of a new forest plan more beneficial to wildlife. It would have also overturned a recent court decision by allowing the release of several illegal and damaging timber sales to go forward without necessary environmental review to the detriment of use of the forest by tourists, hunters, fishermen, and subsistence users.
The deal also dropped the Hatfield-Gorton rider, which would have increased clearcutting of national forests. Purportedly an improvement over the infamous "clearcut rider" added to last year's rescissions bill, this sham fix actually would have extended the clearcut rider for some timber sales. It would have allowed sales of old-growth forests, with the clearcut rider's exemption from environmental laws, to extend past the current deadline. As it stands, after December 31, 1996, all sales will be subject to the Endangered Species Act and other important environmental laws. It also purported to "fix" the rider by making the Forest Service "replace" a bad sale with another sale - which the company must approve, all within 45 days.
Robert Dewey, Defenders' Director of Habitat Conservation, said, "This legalized blackmail would have allowed loggers to get their hands on even more sensitive sales, exempt them from environmental laws, all within 45 days or the original sales get logged. Although stopping the Hatfield-Gorton sham fix is a step forward, conservationists vow to continue to work with the President to repeal the clearcut rider in its entirety."
One glaring casualty of the budget deal was the Mt. Graham rider. Left in place, it will further imperil the unique Mount Graham ecosystem sacred to Native Americans and the only home for the endangered Mount Graham red squirrel. This rider exempts a controversial telescope project in Arizona from conservation and cultural protection laws. The fragile ancient boreal forest ecosystem is home to 18 varieties of plants, insects and animals found nowhere else in the world and is the most sacred site for the San Carlos Apache Indian tribe. Conservationists and Native American activists have vowed to continue their efforts to protect Mount Graham and ensure that the telescope project is carried out at a more suitable location.
Contact(s):Joan Moody, 202-682-9400 x220 (Media)