Yesterday, House Republicans proposed major cuts to many federal programs. Wildlife conservation is always vulnerable to such moves; after all, animals and plants can’t vote, but those who might profit from their destruction definitely can and do. It was no surprise, then, that included in the GOP’s proposed cuts was a $72 million dollar reduction in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s budget.
Where will these cuts be felt, exactly, if and when they become law? Well, we don’t know for sure, as House Republicans have yet to release any details, but you can bet that the agency’s endangered species programs will be on the list.
Endangered species protection in the United States is already grossly underfunded. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spends only about $20 million a year to evaluate which animals and plants should be protected by the Endangered Species Act, about seven cents a year from each man, woman, and child in the United States. The result has been an incredibly slow pace of protection for species desperately in need of help and a growing list of species that everyone acknowledges deserve protection but never receive it. Just yesterday, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it would not protect the Pacific walrus under the Endangered Species Act because it couldn’t afford to process the necessary regulations.
We spend more (about $75 million) on efforts to recover species that are already protected by the Endangered Species Act, but again, in the scheme of things, this is a paltry sum. That’s particularly true when you consider the enormous benefits that conserving wildlife provide--things like medicines that save millions of lives. And yet those eager to undermine the Endangered Species Act often claim that the statute is “broken” because species aren’t recovering fast enough. I don’t think that's a fair assessment, but is it any wonder? The last place we should be cutting federal spending is for the protection of endangered wildlife. People have driven animals and plants toward extinction. We give them little enough as it is and once a species goes extinct it is gone forever. We owe it to our children and our grandchildren to not squander their natural heritage for the sake of a few quick bucks and some easy talking points.