By PHIL TAYLOR
A bipartisan measure to strip Endangered Species Act protections from gray wolves in Montana and Idaho undermines the scientific integrity of the 37-year-old law and could open the door to removing safeguards for other species and their habitats, environmental groups said.
The proposal from Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) to return wolf management to their respective states was included in a bicameral budget agreement to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year (E&E Daily, April 11).
The spending bill is expected to be approved this week.
But while it enjoys broad support from hunters, ranchers and state officials in Montana and Idaho, the proposal would be the first time legislation has ever removed ESA protections for a species. It could threaten other wildlife whose protected status is under attack in Congress, groups say.
“It certainly sets a precedent, but probably more disturbingly, it sends a signal that, as far as the Obama administration is concerned, the Endangered Species Act is a bargaining chip,” said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
Environmentalists said they are concerned lawmakers in the Republican-led House will hold other species and habitat protections hostage as the administration pursues other must-pass legislation, such as a bill to raise the debt ceiling and the 2012 budget. “¦
Jon Marvel, executive director of the Hailey, Idaho-based Western Watersheds Project — which successfully sued to restore ESA protections for wolves — said if the wolf language succeeds, it will embolden lawmakers to disable other federal statutes including the National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. “¦
“We didn’t amend the Endangered Species Act,” Tester said in an interview with E&E Daily. “We asked that a recovered species — a species that [FWS] projected at 300 when it was reintroduced and now is 1,700, be taken off and managed just how we manage elk and mule deer and antelope and everything else.”
Moreover, the ESA was never intended to allow one state hold another “hostage,” Tester said, referring to the management plan in Wyoming that would allow wolves to be shot on site in the vast majority of the state, a plan the federal government has rejected. A federal judge last August said ESA protections for wolves must be restored in Montana and Idaho until the federal government also approves management plans in surrounding states.
“What this does is lets Montana follow its plan, Idaho follow its plan, and when Wyoming come up with a plan they can go forth with it,” Tester said, adding that his legislation will benefit livestock, big game and wolves. “Those plans are based on science. It can work and it will work.”
But critics of the plan say Tester and Simpson’s proposal to reinstate a 2009 FWS rule removing federal protection for wolves in Idaho, Montana and parts of three other states, while barring legal challenges, is too broad and fails to incorporate provisions to ensure a viable recovery that were included in a settlement proposed by 10 environmental groups and the federal government. That settlement was rejected last Saturday by U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy (E&ENews PM, March 18). “¦
The legislative delisting proposal has drawn criticism from leading Democrats in the Senate including Ben Cardin of Maryland and Barbara Boxer of California, who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee.
Some have speculated that Senate leadership allowed the wolf rider to be included in the final budget package in order to strengthen Tester’s run for re-election against six-term Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), who is also a strident supporter of state management of wolves.
“This gave Jon Tester a powerful political pelt to hang on his wall,” Ruch said.
With 20 months to go in the race, the two lawmakers were statistically neck and neck according to a survey by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research that was conducted for Lee Newspapers. “¦
Republican leaders on the House Natural Resources Committee last month blamed ESA protections for fish for driving up the cost of electricity in the West and siphoning water needed for farmland and vowed to take action to address Obama regulations (E&E Daily, March 16).
And in the 1970s, Congress exempted the Tellico Dam in Tennessee from the Endangered Species Act as an amendment in an unrelated bill, harming habitat for a small endangered fish called the snail darter.
But never before has Congress managed to delist a species altogether.
“I’m assuming that now that the door’s been opened, that endangered species or related anti-environmental riders will be thrown into the mix on virtually every piece of legislation of importance,” said Ruch, of PEER. “Why shouldn’t they? The worst that can happen is they can say ‘no,’ but they look good in trying.”
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Please contact your Senators today.
Tell them that you vote and you want them to commit to strongly oppose anti-wolf riders and legislation in any way they can, including voting against budget bills with anti-wolf language or amendments.
You can find contact information for your Senators by entering your state here, or you can call the Capital Switchboard at (202)224-3121, toll-free: 1-866-220-0044) and ask for your Senators’ office. You can then speak with a member of your Senator’s staff or leave a voicemail.
You can also https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/ and remind him of his own position that policy decisions should not be made through budget bills. Ask him to veto any budget bill containing any policy riders, including those that endanger wolves and the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Thank you for your work to stop this horrific precedent that would eliminate protections for gray wolves, weaken the ESA, and leave these magnificent animals without a safety net against the threat of widespread killing. At this crucial time for wolves and other wildlife, your actions are critical.
Photo courtesy of Jean Ossorio