100 ways to harm endangered species
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Congress’ agenda goes far beyond news grabbing headlines on national security and job growth; it also includes undermining protections for imperiled wildlife. Surprised? Don’t be.
 
Since the start of the 114th Congress last January, there has been an unrelenting effort by many anti-conservation members to weaken the Endangered Species Act (ESA), one of our most important and effective conservation laws, put in place more than 40 years ago to protect America’s imperiled plants and animals.  And, this week, Congress unveiled its 100th legislative attack on the ESA in just 16 months.  Collectively, this represents the most sweeping assault on this landmark conservation law since it was passed 43 years ago.
 

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We hardly ever hear about these legislative proposals because their sponsors in Congress know that support for the ESA is incredibly high among the general public – a whopping 90 percent of American voters support the law, according to the latest poll.  So instead of trying to pass bills under regular order, most of these attacks take the form of amendments or “riders” attached to must-pass legislation like the authorization bill for the U.S. Department of Defense, or appropriations bills for the U.S. Department of the Interior and other federal agencies.
 
While the visibility of these stealth legislative attacks may be lower, if passed, these proposals would irreparably damage the nation’s ability to protect and restore imperiled  wildlife. Two damaging bills making their way through the legislative process now are House and Senate versions of the so-called Sportsmen’s bill, each containing amendments that undermine key conservation policies and threaten public lands and listed species, including gray wolves and African elephants.
 
Nearly three-fourths (71 percent) of American voters believe that decisions about which imperiled species receive protection under the ESA should be made by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists, not members of Congress. But too many anti-conservation members of Congress have stopped listening to their constituents on this issue – letting extreme politics run amuck in a process that should be based on the best available science. Just look at the numbers: nearly half of these 100 anti-ESA attacks are attempts to delist or block a listing for specific imperiled species including sage-grouse, lesser prairie-chicken, Northern long-eared bat and the gray wolf.
 
Instead of the American public, it is the polluters, extractive industries and developers that have these members’ ears. These special economic interests have wanted to weaken or eliminate the ESA’s protections for decades, making it a scapegoat for all types of economic maladies. Today there are too many members in Congress willing to do their bidding.
 
At an alarming rate, the seamless interaction between powerful special economic interest lobbyists and elected officials is becoming the status quo for deciding the fate of the wildlife conservation policies for this country. Their goal is simple: far less federal safeguards and oversight for activities like drilling, development and mining that could harm imperiled species and people alike.
 
In the wake of this concerted war on America’s wildlife, members of Congress, many of whom  care about science and want to leave behind a country that is just as rich in nature as it is today, should loudly reject these corporate attacks on the ESA.
 
Only polluting industries and special economic interests stand to benefit from these attacks. Our imperiled wildlife, the habitats they call home and future generations of Americans have the most to lose.

Jamie Rappaport Clark is president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife and a former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.