Warnings as GOP Aims to Gut Protections for Endangered Species

Conservation groups are issuing warnings on Wednesday as Congressional committees in both chambers considered Republican-backed bills aimed at weakening the Endangered Species Act.

“If these dangerous bills are enacted, hundreds of plants and animals will be put on a fast track to extinction.”
—Brett Hartl, Center for Biological Diversity

In the Senate on Wednesday, the Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing for the ironically named Hunting Heritage and Environmental Legacy Preservation (HELP) for Wildlife Act. And while its backers refer to it as the Sportsmen’s Bill, critics describe it as a Trojan horse specifically designed to undermine the species protection laws.

The proposed law would block ESA protections for gray wolves in the Great Lakes region. In recent years, the gray wolf has been a primary target of similar proposals from lawmakers, who are lobbied by ranchers and hunting groups, but they have hit roadblocks in federal court. Gray wolves around the Great Lakes remain protected, due to a court ruling in 2014, but in March a federal Appeals Court overturned a lower court’s ruling and allowed the gray wolf to be delisted in Wyoming.

The “HELP” law proposes prohibiting judicial review of the wolf delisting in the Great Lakes and Wyoming, which, as Earthjustice said in statement “sets a damaging precedent for undermining all laws that allow citizens from across the political spectrum to go to court to hold the government accountable for its actions.”

The House’s Natural Resource Committee also held a hearing Wednesday to address legislation that would weaken the ESA. The five House bills include additional attacks on the gray wolf protections, as well as measures to ban ESA protections for species that are not native to the U.S., and to “require review of the economic cost” of granting protections to future threatened and endangered species.

Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who chairs the House committee and is an outspoken opponent of the ESA, has said he “would be happy to invalidate the Endangered Species Act,” and that lawmakers should “repeal it and replace it”—suggesting a potentially more covert Congressional battle along the lines of the GOP’s recent failure to destroy Obamacare.

Republicans, including Bishop and Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who chairs the Senate committee, have called for efforts to “modernize” the ESA. Barrasso, who helped craft the Senate’s bill, introduced it to his committee as “comprehensive, bipartisan legislation designed to enhance recreational hunting and sport fishing activities, to ensure commonsense environmental regulation, and protect wildlife and wildlife habitat.” 

However, experts and environmentalists have challenged lawmakers’ motives, and the consequences for enacting the legislation discussed Wednesday.

“None of it is based in science. None of it is going to make the Endangered Species Act work more efficiently or effectively,” Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of the nonprofit Defenders of Wildlife and a former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, told the Huffington Post. “And absolutely none of what they are doing will accelerate species recovery or slow down species extinction. So it’s really kind of selfish and self-serving.”