Congressional Spending Bill Is an Extreme Attack on Public Lands and Wildlife

I am not sure at what point Congress and some of our political leaders decided they wanted to wage an all-out war against our nation's lands, water and imperiled wildlife and the laws that protect them — or why, for that matter — but Americans who care about wildlife seem to be fighting battles on a near-weekly basis. The Fiscal year 2016 House Interior, Environment and Related Agencies appropriations bill is proving to be no exception to this trend, with multiple crosshairs trained on the Endangered Species Act (ESA).


The extreme nature of the more than 25 anti-environmental riders that have been inserted into the bill in committee cannot be overstated. One in particular would block badly needed regulatory controls to crack down on the sale of illegal ivory. This "elephant extinction rider" would have far-reaching consequences. It would facilitate the continued slaughter of Asian and African elephants — driving them closer to extinction — while allowing an illegal, terroristic trade to flourish.

RELATED: With Friends Like the Obama Administration, Endangered Species Don't Need Enemies

This is irresponsible and unacceptable. As a major player in this trade, our country needs to be a leader for elephant conservation and stand up against this gruesome and deadly industry by shutting down the black market for ivory in the United States. Right now, China is the largest market in the world for illegal elephant ivory, but even the Chinese government recently stated that it will begin to restrict and phase out the sale of ivory within that country, provided that the U.S. takes similar measures. So if the House rider on ivory becomes law, it will provide China with a convenient excuse not to stem the flow of illegal ivory into the world's largest black market. The world is watching to see if we will take a leadership role on this issue or careen backwards.

Other riders would jeopardize the conservation of the imperiled greater sage-grouse by delaying a listing decision, remove endangered species protections for the gray wolf in Wyoming and the Great Lakes states and weaken protections for threatened northern long-eared bats. If we don't address sage-grouse conservation needs now, then saving the species will be even more difficult, expensive and disruptive in the future. The same goes for wolves, bats and any of the imperiled species sliding toward extinction.

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A greater sage-grouse male struts for a female. Residential building and energy development have caused the greater sage-grouse population to decline from 16 million 100 years ago to between 200,000 and 500,000 today. (image: Jeannie Stafford/U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)

And if that weren't enough, as Congress prepares to take the bill up again on the floor of the House after the Fourth of July recess, an additional tidal wave of destructive amendments are expected to be proposed, including one that would strip away long-standing prohibitions against killing migratory birds, golden eagles and even America's most iconic national symbol, the bald eagle — just as our nation celebrates Independence Day.

RELATED: 5 Easy Actions You Can Take to Help Animals on Endangered Species Day

Additional riders in the bill would damage public lands, important wildlife habitat and efforts to combat climate change, including provisions aimed at wilderness, grazing, phasing out lead ammunition, federal water rights and the regulation of clean air and water. The litany of attacks is a veritable rabbit hole of dizzying extremism.

Writ large, these actions are part of a powerful deregulatory agenda, the main beneficiaries of which are Big Oil and other polluting economic interests, not the majority of Americans. Some of our political leaders have clearly lost sight of the conservation values that once united us as a nation, and their actions are certainly not reflective of what the general public expects when it comes to our natural heritage. In fact, recent polling found that more than two thirds of voters (68 percent) say they would be more likely to vote for a member of Congress who supports environmental safeguards such as the ESA, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.

TAKE ACTION: Tell your Senators to oppose any legislation that weakens the Endangered Species Act

In truth, the American people are as supportive of conservation and leaving a strong environmental legacy as ever, if not more so. The same poll found broad and deep approval of the Endangered Species Act, with 90 percent of voters supporting the law and its intention. Furthermore, by a 53-point margin (71 percent to 18 percent), voters believe that decisions about which species should or should not be protected under the act should be made by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists, not Congress.

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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Mags Rheude bands an eagle. (image: U.S. Fish & Wildlife)

Unfortunately, despite what the people want, what is best for our country, and in some cases what is best for the international community, congressional meddling with environmental laws, especially those that safeguard wildlife and their habitat, has become increasingly common. Anti-environmental lawmakers seem determined to undo the conservation legacy of their predecessors and undermine our nation's ability to take the lead on critical issues like climate change. Some of these same lawmakers have even included similar damaging provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act, demonstrating the lengths to which they will go in order to undermine protections for imperiled wildlife.

RELATED: Mountaintop Removal Mining Is Pushing Species to Extinction

Congressional attacks on bedrock environmental laws like the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act are sadly nothing new. What is new, however, is the overwhelming magnitude and targeted nature of this recent wave of attacks. They are clearly intended to undermine the strength of lands, water and wildlife protections and would have disastrous implications for the future of conservation in the United States.

This unprecedented and extreme agenda that would destroy America's natural heritage is alarming and shortsighted. Members of Congress supporting this destructive agenda are not representing their constituents but simply kowtowing to their big-money corporate donors. Is this really the legacy we want to leave for the next generation? We must encourage and find solutions that balance sustainable economic development and conservation interests. Polluted waters and air, extinction of our nation's treasured wildlife and destruction of our precious lands are not a legacy our children and grandchildren will be eager to inherit. Our lands, water, wildlife and children deserve better.

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