Western governors seek to weaken Endangered Species Act

Suggested changes would lead to extinction of some species

A lynx kitten in Colorado. Photo courtesy Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Staff Report

Governors of western states talk a good game when it comes to natural resources conservation, but when the rubber hits the road, they’ve never really been willing to walk the walk.

At its recent meeting in Montana, the Western Governors Association endorsed a  policy resolution today that, if adopted into law, would substantially weaken the core of the Endangered Species Act.

Although it’s couched in Orwellian pro-environmental language intended to confuse constituents, the resolution at its core is anti-wildlife because it recommends recommends delaying lifesaving protections for at-risk wildlife and curtailing the ability of ordinary citizens to challenge agency decisions in court. The resolution would weaken critical habitat protections in areas needed for species recovery and tamper with the Endangered Species Act’s “best available science” mandate.

This policy resolution was primarily driven by Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, a Republican, who has long been pushing for backdoors changes to the Endangered Species Act. Last week Mead stated that the Act is “not good industry, it’s not good for business and, quite frankly, it’s not good for the species,” and that Wyoming “can’t be a zoo for endangered species.”

“The Western Governors’ Association resolution is another cynical attack on the Endangered Species Act that will be used by congressional Republicans to justify gutting this landmark conservation law,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Politicizing science, disrupting the citizen petition process and gutting critical habitat won’t help a single endangered species move an inch closer to recovery. These governors should be ashamed of themselves.”

In February more than 280 environmental, animal-protection, faith-based, outdoor-recreational and social-justice groups sent a letter to the National Governors Association urging the organization to oppose any upcoming legislative changes to the Endangered Species Act. Specifically, the letter asks the national association not to support an ongoing effort led by the Western Governors’ Association to weaken the bedrock wildlife law.

On Tuesday California Gov. Jerry Brown sent a letter to the Western Governors’ Association opposing the resolution on the Endangered Species Act.

“Gov. Brown is absolutely correct that this resolution won’t help the recovery of endangered species at all,” said Hartl. “Republicans in Congress like Rob Bishop and John Barrasso aren’t interested in improving the Act — they want to see it disappear forever.”

In December Rep. Bishop (R-Utah) said “I would be happy to invalidate the Endangered Species Act” and wanted to pursue a repeal-and-replace strategy for legislation for the Act. Meanwhile Sen. Barrasso (R-Wyo.) has sponsored or cosponsored eight bills attacking the Endangered Species Act since 2015 and voted against the Act nearly a dozen times since 2011.

“The Endangered Species Act is our nation’s most successful conservation law and has prevented the extinction of 99 percent of the plants and animals under its protection,” said Hartl. “This resolution is completely out of touch with the overwhelming majority of Americans that want to strengthen the Act and recognize that it has saved bald eagles, gray whales, American alligators and other iconic wildlife from the brink of extinction.”

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