Stop Extinction: ESA Riders

Christmas has come early for members of Congress who oppose our nation’s most effective law in saving wildlife from extinction — the Endangered Species Act. Buried in the Fiscal Year 2018 spending bills for the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are anti-wildlife riders that would remove species from the endangered species list, slash funding for implementing the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and prevent citizens from using environmental laws to protect wildlife.

If these Representatives and Senators have their way, the recovery program to save red wolves in North Carolina would end and red wolves would be declared extinct in the wild, ignoring decades of scientific research. Wolves in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin would lose their federally protected status. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would be blocked from taking any steps to list the lesser prairie chicken, whose population has declined by more than half just between 2012 and 2013. It would also be unable to take any steps to list the greater sage-grouse or Columbia basin sage-grouse, even though Interior Secretary Zinke plans on weakening the land management plans that allowed Interior to circumvent an ESA listing for the species in the first place.

These so-called “riders” are just some of over 65 bills or provisions introduced in the last year that would reduce or remove protections for threatened and endangered species by weakening the Endangered Species Act, the very law intended to save them. It’s all part of a concerted effort to gut this wildly successful law.

However, some members of Congress are fighting back. On Monday, 104 members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to House leadership expressing concerns over these harmful provisions in the Department of the Interior spending bill. They joined 31 senators who sent a similar letter to their leadership late last month.

“The appropriations process has become a perennial target for provisions and amendments that seek to make significant changes to U.S. environmental policies. Rather than taking their policy proposals to the appropriate authorizing committees, many members have instead opted to insert them into appropriations bills, often without full consideration by Congress,” the Representatives, who were led by Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia, Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan, and Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, wrote. “These misguided efforts weigh down the important process to fund the federal government. We object to these policy provisions — especially those provisions that threaten America’s air, water, wildlife, and public lands.”

Just last week, Congress averted a government shutdown when it passed a short-term funding bill known as a Continuing Resolution, which will fund the government until Dec. 22. It is anticipated that another Continuing Resolution will be passed that funds the government for a few weeks into January. When Congress returns from their winter break, expect Defenders of Wildlife and our supporters to be waiting for them, calling for the removal of this damaging language from the Department of the Interior’s spending bill.