The Senate’s Sportsmen’s Bill known as the “HELP for Wildlife Act” would fail to help imperiled gray wolves and threatens the Endangered Species Act.
Next Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will hold a hearing on a bill that pops up year after year, commonly known as the Sportsmen’s Bill. The stated goal of this bill is to increase sporting and recreational opportunities, but it almost always includes provisions that would directly harm wildlife. This year, the bill’s sponsors have dubbed it the “Hunting Heritage and Environmental Legacy Preservation (HELP) for Wildlife Act,” – an ironic and misleading title, since the bill would do the very opposite. Instead of helping gray wolves in Wyoming and the Great Lakes, this bill would continue a congressional war against wolves and threaten the integrity of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by injecting politics into wildlife conservation.
Once again, a small group of politicians have sided with local commercial special interests over imperiled wildlife by including language in the bill that would delist wolves in the Great Lakes and reaffirm a court decision that delisted wolves in Wyoming.
Stripping Great Lakes Protections
The bill would strip ESA protections for wolves in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, even though their protection status is still under review by a federal court. Rather than wait for a panel of qualified judges to consider all the facts and examine the requirements of the law before making a decision, the sponsors of the sportsmen’s bill want to bypass this crucial step and delist wolves through highly politicized legislation.
This bill continues a damaging trend of congressional interference in the ESA’s decision-making process. If the bill passes, wolves in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin would be returned to state management and would be vulnerable to hunting and trapping.
Wyoming Language Takes Aim at the ESA
The bill also reaffirms a March 2017 decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which returned gray wolves in Wyoming to state management despite the fact that Wyoming’s management plan allows wolves to be killed without a permit, by any means and for whatever reason in 85 percent of the state.
The bill’s language reaffirming the court’s decision doesn’t change the terrible situation for wolves on the ground in Wyoming – but it demonstrates a radical hostility toward the ESA’s process by foreclosing the possibility of citizens from going to court to challenge the delisting, a right specifically granted under the ESA.
That’s right. Not only does the bill legislatively delist an imperiled species in two regions – it also blocks citizens from potentially accessing the judicial branch to challenge those ESA delisting decisions. The ESA’s citizen lawsuit provision lets concerned citizens sue the government if they’ve been harmed by a decision, and they can make a case for why the government got the decision wrong. The provision is bad for the ESA and the rule of law and citizens’ access to court in general.
The right to challenge government action in court is a fundamental American principle that is enshrined in the ESA and numerous other laws. This bill is so pernicious because, in addition to harming wolves and the integrity of the ESA, it sets a damaging precedent for all laws that allow citizens to go to court to hold the government accountable. Just imagine – if Congress can remove citizen participation in ESA decisions, what else can it do? Take away our right to sue the government if our civil rights or voting rights have been violated?
For those who participated in the March for Science back in April, it’s frustrating to see our elected officials sponsor legislation that interferes with the ESA’s science-based decision-making process. While experts at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service delisted wolves in both Wyoming and the Great Lakes after an open public comment process, those science-based decisions became subject to judicial review once interested parties sued. It’s wrong for Congress to intervene in or impede that process. As we’re currently awaiting a final court decision in the Great Lakes wolf case, now is an especially bad time for Congress to consider this legislation.
Setting the Stage for an All-out War on the ESA
This attack on wolves also sets the stage for politicians to propose additional legislation that interferes with the listing status of other imperiled species. Congress has proposed over 160 harmful legislative attacks on the ESA since the start of 2015, many of which singled out individual endangered or threatened species. Defenders strongly opposes this bill and we urge you to do so as well. If you care about wolves and the Endangered Species Act, please call your Senators at (202) 224-3121 or submit your comments online and urge them to oppose the so-called “HELP for Wildlife Act.” Wolves and other imperiled wildlife are counting on you.
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