Congress and the Trump administration are tearing through vital protections for public health and safety, wildlife and our environment. Legislators, armed with the crude and injudicious Congressional Review Act, are determined to bludgeon a slate of environmental regulations issued in the final months of the Obama administration.
After throwing out the Stream Protection Rule last month, which prevented coal mining companies from dumping toxic waste into our rivers and streams, legislators next axed the Bureau of Land Management’s new collaborative planning process for our nation’s largest public lands system.
The Senate may soon continue this wanton disregard for environmental rules by overturning the Alaska National Wildlife Refuges Rule.
This regulation conserves native carnivores, including bears, wolves and their young, on 76 million acres of national wildlife refuges in Alaska. Without it, the state of Alaska would be free to pursue its scientifically indefensible predator control program on these public lands. The state program allows killing of mother bears and cubs, killing wolves and pups in their dens, and trapping, baiting and using airplanes to scout and shoot bears.
Most Americans oppose these extreme practices that could reduce or eliminate large carnivores across entire landscapes. Alaska’s program, intended to artificially inflate game populations, is unscientific, unsporting and defies traditional wildlife management principles.
The state’s predator control policy is also counter to congressional mandates to conserve the ecological integrity of the National Wildlife Refuge System, and specifically to manage species and habitats on Alaska refuges for their natural diversity.
The House of Representatives already jammed through legislation to rescind the rule, despite bipartisan opposition that dubbed the bill as The Killing Baby Animals in Alaska Act. The Senate is now considering whether to bring this controversial measure (H.J. Res. 69) to the floor for a vote.
Voiding the Alaska Refuges Rule would not only jeopardize some of the most iconic species in North America, it would also abdicate federal authority over public trust resources. Simply put, proponents of throwing out this rule want to give away federal control of federal lands and resources to the states.
The National Wildlife Refuge System is on the frontlines of this ongoing battle over America’s natural heritage. Spurred by the illegal occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge last year, certain Congressional members and their special interest allies have repeatedly attempted to sell off and sell out our public lands and resources across the country.
Their attacks have now expanded to other federal lands systems, including a failed attempt to expedite disposal of more than three million acres of BLM lands in the West in January, and a harmful new budget proposal that includes $50 million to facilitate transfer of federal public lands to state control.
These actions defy both vast public support for our public lands and their incalculable value for wildlife, watersheds, local communities, a burgeoning recreational economy and sustainable businesses across the country. Our public lands systems are the envy of the world, and every American has an ownership stake in and a right to enjoy these special places.
Tossing out the Alaska National Wildlife Refuges Rule insults these American values and opens the door to anti-public lands extremists seeking to impose their patently unpopular agenda on our refuges, forests, parks, grasslands, deserts and wildlife.
The Senate may consider rescinding the Alaska Refuges Rule, ironically, the same week that the National Wildlife Refuge System celebrates its 114th birthday. Teddy Roosevelt established the first refuge unit to protect birds on a small island in Florida in 1903. The System has since grown to encompass hundreds of millions of acres on 566 national wildlife refuges, including at least one in every state and U.S. territory.
Refuges are essential to the survival of an astounding diversity of wildlife, providing millions of Americans access to compatible wildlife-dependent recreation and generating billions in annual revenue to local economies.
Our national wildlife refuges and all public lands deserve Congress’ support, not efforts to divest or manage them for narrow special interests. Lawmakers in both parties must end their attacks on our public domain and rise to the opportunity to protect, conserve and restore these lands, waters and wildlife for current and future generations.
Jamie Rappaport Clark is the president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife. She was the Dirctor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from 1997 to 2001.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.