Seven Ways Congress Is Trying to Destroy the Endangered Species Act


Members of Congress have introduced more than 80 proposals aimed at gutting the Endangered Species Act this year. Thirteen of these anti-wildlife measures have been added to House and Senate must-pass spending bills. Congressional leaders and the White House are now in intense negotiations that will determine whether these and other anti-environmental provisions are included in the final government spending bill.

When one of these leaders in charge of setting our nation's environmental policy boasts about wearing boots made from the skins of endangered species, it is a dark day for anyone who supports the continued protection of creatures great and small. Yet, this is the reality of having Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma heading up the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Inhofe was being flippant when he told a Washington Post reporter that his cowboy boots were probably made from "some endangered species," adding, "I have a reputation to maintain."

Indeed, Senator Inhofe has one of the worst environmental voting records of any sitting senator. And now he and his compatriots on the Hill have one of the most popular and important conservation laws in their crosshairs: the Endangered Species Act. Supported by 90 percent of Americans and remarkably successful in recovering some of the nation's most beloved and iconic creatures—including the bald eagle, American alligator and gray whale—the act is under threat of being dismantled piece by piece, and critter by critter, through legislative fiat.

While the claims of these anti-conservation crusaders are often off the wall, their power to undermine this bedrock environmental law is no laughing matter. Now that their pack has overrun both chambers of Congress, their bite may turn out to be just as strong as their bark.

The following are some of the ways Congress is attempting to tear apart the Endangered Species Act:

WAY #1:

Bring Together Birds of a Feather.

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In 2013, 13 members of Congress came together under the banner of the Endangered Species Act Congressional Working Group to discuss ways in which the act is working well and to identify how it could be updated and how to boost its effectiveness for both people and species.

While it seemed a reasonable enough premise, the team turned out to be a self-appointed group of anti-Endangered Species Act members, all with atrocious voting records on the environment.


WAY #2:
Form an Anti-Wolf Pack.
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THE LATEST: Both the House and Senate appropriations bills include a policy “rider”—a provision related to policy, not funding levels—that removes wolves in Wyoming, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota from the endangered species list.

If this rider becomes law, wolves in these states could be subject to the same sort of unregulated slaughter that nearly wiped them out in the first place. The rider would also strip citizens of the right to further challenge these delistings in court. Take action now and tell President Obama to reject this politically-motivated, scientifically unsound rider.

The reintroduction of wolves to the Northern Rocky Mountains has been hailed as one of the greatest achievements of the Endangered Species Act. It also positioned the gray wolf as a poster child of the act, and therefore it became one of the biggest targets for foes of the conservation law. 

In 2011, members of Congress managed for the first time since the act was enacted to strike protections for an individual species based purely on political motivations and not on science. Congressmen in the Northern Rockies succeeded in delisting wolves in Idaho and Montana from the Endangered Species Act by slipping wording into the bicameral bill to fund the budget, effectively turning the act into a political bargaining chip. 

WAY #3:
Declare Open Season on Individual Species.

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THE LATEST: Numerous policy “riders” have been tacked onto the must-pass spending bills that would prevent individual species from receiving protections under the Endangered Species Act.

The riders target species including the greater sage grouse lesser prairie chicken, northern long-eared bat, and Sonoran desert tortoise. Take action now and tell members of Congress that must-pass spending bills are no place for making decisions about the fate of species.

Emboldened by the success they had delisting wolves in Idaho and Montana, legislators have been aiming to pick off individual vulnerable species one at a time by slipping in riders to often-unrelated bills that would deny protections for these species under the Endangered Species Act. 

In other words, legislators could use political cunning to effectively kick a species off the Ark. 

WAY #4:
Establish No Man's Lands for Species Protections.

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Some legislators have introduced bills that exclude entire states or regions from following conservation requirements under the Endangered Species Act. 

Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah has employed this strategy several times over. In 2010, he introduced a bill that would exclude gray wolves from receiving any Endangered Species Act protections in the state of Utah. He also sponsored legislation that would delay listing under the act of two grouse species in 11 states for at least 10 years. 

WAY #5:
Blame the Drought on the Fish.


The tiny delta smelt has been blamed for everything, from stealing water from California's farmers to causing the next Dust Bowl. This supposed monster's numbers used to measure in the millions, but a 2014 survey only counted nine fish.

The reality is the drought—not environmental protections—is causing the water shortages to California farms, as well as to cities, towns, the fishing industry, the outdoor recreation industry and plenty of other users. The protections in place for the smelt have not affected any of the water allotment to the Central Valley this year.

WAY #6:
Lasso Scientists in Red Tape.


Former Rep. Doc Hastings, backed by the members of that congressional working group, introduced a bill last year that would both bog down scientists in bureaucracy and threaten to further imperil already vulnerable species.

The bill would require federal wildlife agencies to publish online the data underlying all listing and delisting decisions. On its face, open data is a good thing, but the bill does not account for real-world issues involved in such blanket data-sharing, such as exposing some imperiled species to poaching or illegal collection. 

WAY #7:
Prevent Citizens from Enforcing the Act.


Congress has long recognized that the government needs average citizens to help enforce all sorts of important laws, including the Endangered Species Act.

Citizen suit provisions, found in civil rights laws, voting rights laws, and environmental laws, allow citizens to go to court to ensure that our laws are upheld. 

But now...
The Endangered Species Act is one of the most powerful and effective environmental laws of the land.

The act is based on the principle that we have a responsibility to preserve America's natural heritage by protecting the plants and animals that are part of it. 

But since its enactment over 40 years ago, the act itself has become endangered by the heads of industries that want free rein to dig, blast, extract, and pollute wherever they see fit. These powerful interests and their friends in Congress have made it a priority to rollback protections for our wildlife, fish, and plants and the habitats upon which these species depend. 

The law is based in common sense and balanced solutions that offer flexibility to communities, private landowners, and government agencies. When upheld properly and adequately funded, the Endangered Species Act succeeds in pulling species back from the brink of extinction.  

Illustrations by Chris OBrion.

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