The Endangered Species Act (ESA) has been under increasing attacks over the past few decades from radical Republicans in Congress, however the number of attacks the ESA has weathered over the years contrasts sharply with its popularity among the American public. A 2015 poll showed that 90 percent of voters across the country support the ESA and, contrary to the claims of anti-ESA radicals, 68 percent of voters believe species protection can be accomplished alongside job creation and economic growth. But despite the alarming number of Congressional attacks, we can still find reason for hope in the steadfast efforts of our environmental champions in congress that make sure they represent the American people by fighting to protect wildlife and the environment.
As ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, Congressman Raúl Grijalva has organized a series of ESA-oriented briefings throughout the year focused on the ESA and military readiness, red wolf recovery, protecting controversial predators like grizzlies and wolves, and the benefits of biodiversity. He has also sent several letters to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service - the organizations in charge of protecting species under the ESA - asking them to reconsider the delisting of species such as grizzlies and even improve the management of corals. This May, Rep. Grijalva took an assertive stance by calling out radical Republicans on their relentless attacks on the ESA.
Rep. Grijalva (House Committee on Education and the Workforce Democrats, flickr)
In the Senate, Tom Udall, ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, stood up for the ESA by addressing attacks through legislative ‘riders’ in his passionate opening remarks at the subcommittee’s recent appropriations hearing. Later in the hearing, he boldly offered an amendment that would strike all poison-pill, ideological riders aiming to weaken environmental protection.
During the House of Representative’s consideration of their version of the Interior and Environmental Appropriations bill, two other ESA champs stepped up in support of the ESA. Congressman Don Beyer from Virginia proposed an amendment to strike three detrimental provisions that would block recovery efforts and protections for gray wolves in Wyoming and the Great Lakes region, greater sage-grouse, and the lesser prairie-chicken. Congresswoman Niki Tsongas from Massachusetts, who is constantly standing up to protect the greater sage grouse, put forward an amendment to address a provision in the bill that would delay the consideration of the bird’s listing, obstruct the implementation of a massive western conservation plan, and hand over 60 million acres of land from federal to state control.
Rep. Tsongas (Andrew Phelps, flickr)
Two additional representatives went to bat for the ESA during the House floor debate. Congresswoman Kathy Castor of Florida presented an amendment to increase funding for the Refuge Law Enforcement Program, which would allow USFWS to hire more personnel to protect wildlife and refuge visitors, while Congressman Jerry McNerney submitted a number of amendments to strike several provisions that threatened the protection of salmon and other native Californian fisheries.
Rep. Castor (Blue Frontier, flickr)
At LCV, we also strive to defend the ESA. We have worked with our coalition partners to fight back against ESA attacks, helped sponsor an ESA briefing series and other events that have celebrated the successes of the ESA, and consistently hold members of Congress accountable for their legislative actions against wildlife protections through our national environmental scorecard. In the case of these leaders, we are immensely grateful for their dedication to the struggle to conserve wildlife and the environment at large. We realize that this tasks requires constant alertness and tireless resolve and we hope to be able to support these leaders and their pro-environment actions in years to come.
Cover Photo: Tom Udall by Senate Democrats (flickr)