For most Americans, summertime is a chance to finally enjoy the great outdoors and appreciate the incredible diversity of native wildlife our country has to offer. It’s time for swimming at the beach and watching shorebirds, hiking in the mountains through fields of wildflowers, and spending lazy afternoons fishing on our nation’s lakes and rivers.
But in recent years, summer has meant the exact opposite here in D.C. It’s time for wildlife opponents in Congress to make their sneak attacks on some of America’s most imperiled plants and animals by cutting holes in our nation’s safety net—the Endangered Species Act.
The latest onslaught started last week with an insidious rider proposed to the Senate Farm Bill that would eliminate protections for polar bears, Florida panthers and hundreds of other species that exist in only one state. That was followed quickly by another proposed farm bill amendment that would make it virtually impossible to protect species on private lands by mandating onerous economic analyses and discounting valuable scientific information. We should be doing everything we can to rescue America’s imperiled wildlife, not throwing up additional roadblocks that will push them closer to extinction.
This week, we’re anticipating several more anti-wildlife provisions to be introduced that would eliminate vital protections for endangered species and the habitats they depend on for survival.
First up is a bill that includes an array of nightmarish attacks on our public lands and wildlife. One of these could spell disaster for jaguars, caribou, lynx, grizzly bears and dozens of other species along our borders. This provision, which was introduced by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), would waive about three dozen essential environmental laws on Federal public and tribal lands within 100 miles of our borders with Canada and Mexico. In addition, the bill would give the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) unilateral authority to engage in numerous destructive activities on Federal public and tribal lands anywhere in the U.S., regardless of protective status or proximity to the border. If passed, the law would allow DHS to build roads through wilderness areas, erect fences around key wildlife habitat and restrict access to national parks without any public involvement whatsoever.
But as two thoughtful ranchers point out in an op-ed for the LA Times, the disastrous border provisions are completely unwarranted. Many landowners already work very closely with border patrol agents to make sure our border regions remain safe without discarding America’s most important environmental safeguards. In another fantastic op-ed for U-T San Diego, a returning Iraq veteran makes the case that our public lands are a source of inspiration and healing for our troops, both when they’re abroad and when they return home. Rep. Bishop may offer an amendment to this provision on the House floor, but it will do little to address the most significant problems with the legislation.
Another provision in the same bill would undo critical protections for piping plovers and sea turtles at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The National Park Service finally announced new rules earlier this year to restrict access to the beach and put a stop to the destruction caused by excessive off-road-vehicle use. Nesting populations of shorebirds and sea turtles have started to recover since 2008 when interim regulations were put in place. Let’s not turn back the clock by allowing Congress to override necessary protections for continued recovery of these rare birds and sea turtles.
A key subcommittee in the U.S. House of Representatives will also begin work on the Interior Appropriations bill this week. This is the same legislation that included more than a dozen attacks on wildlife last year, and it’s likely to have a similar fate this year. We’re particularly concerned about a rider that’s been floated by Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) that would prevent anyone from challenging the delisting of wolves in Wyoming. Such a rider would make it virtually impossible for Defenders, our conservation partners, or any citizens to undo a deadly wolf plan in Wyoming that would allow unrestricted wolf killing across the vast majority of the state.
We’ll be keeping a close watch on Congress this week and urging our champs to take a strong stance to make sure vital wildlife protections remain in place. Please take a moment today to contact your members of Congress and tell them to uphold America’s commitment to preserving our natural heritage for future generations.