The words change, but the song remains the same — and it’s all about money
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Radical anti-environmental House Republicans are once again on the march against endangered species protections. In a hearing this week, the GOP renewed its attacks against the bulwark environmental law, retreading the same arguments that have been rejected by the American people more than once.
The message trotted out by right-wingers like Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) doesn’t change much from year to year: Grow the economy, create jobs, but it’s really driven by a corporate agenda that wants only to extract more profit from public lands.
This latest assault comes as the nation celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Act — a world-famous law that has prevented the extinction of 99 percent of the species entrusted to its care and put hundreds of them on the road to recovery.
“Representative Hastings and his Republican colleagues are disturbingly out of step with most Americans, who overwhelmingly support protecting endangered species from extinction,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “But Hastings can’t change the facts. The Endangered Species Act has an almost perfect record of preventing extinctions, and it’s working exceptionally well to recover hundreds of plants and animals across the country — not only well-known species like bald eagles and gray whales, but many lesser-known species too, like island foxes and El Segundo blue butterflies.”
One focus of a hearing this week in the House was criticism of citizens who litigate or take other action to protect endangered species. In an attempt to pit local and state conservation efforts against the actions of nonprofit conservation groups such as the Center, Hastings and the Republican witnesses claimed that litigation diverts conservation resources away from conserving endangered species.
But the facts demonstrate exactly the opposite. Many of the Center’s legal actions have provided the kick-start needed to get focused, on-the-ground conservation actions implemented to protect endangered plants and animals and put them on the road to recovery.
“The lesser prairie chicken and sage grouse have declined by at least 90 percent over the past 100 years, but it wasn’t till citizens petitioned and sued to get protection for these animals that concrete state, local and private conservation efforts to save them from extinction began,” said Hartl. “Without years of advocacy and litigation by the Center and other nonprofits to win Endangered Species Act protection for these two species, it’s doubtful that any of these conservation activities would be occurring today.”
Successful litigation brought by the Center and others has played a critical role in protecting hundreds of rare and endangered species. For example:
- In 2000 the Center filed a petition to protect four subspecies of island fox. After several years of litigation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed all four subspecies as endangered under the Act and worked with the National Park Service on a comprehensive restoration program for Channel Islands National Park. Today the island foxes are recovering, and one of America’s crown jewel parks has been ecologically restored. The San Miguel island fox, for example, has increased from fewer than 15 animals in 1999 to more than 400 in 2012.
- The eastern population of Steller sea lions steadily declined from more than 200,000 animals in the 1970s to roughly 20,000 animals in the 1990s. Following federal inaction, a series of lawsuits resulted in fishing restrictions that helped the sea lions steadily increase to more than 45,000 animals.
- Litigation by the Center compelled the Environmental Protection Agency to evaluate the impact of pesticides on the red-legged frog and its 1.6 million acres of critical habitat in California, leading to common-sense restrictions on the spraying of these chemicals to protect the frog and other aquatic species.
Since the Republicans retook the House of Representatives in 2011, dozens of bills and amendments have been filed to reduce funding for the Fish and Wildlife Service; prevent species from being protected under the Act; and prematurely remove species from the Act’s protection.