March/April 2012 Threats to the Endangered Species Act


In a final push before the elections begin in earnest, over the past couple months, Congress has ramped up the heat on the Endangered Species Act. Here’s the rundown:


Sen. Hatch (R-UT) introduced the WEST Act (S. 2365) this month, which rolls many of the worst bills passed by the House into one poisonous omnibus. One of the many bills included in the WEST Act is the “State Water Rights Repeal Act” (H.R. 1837), which would, among other things, eliminate protections for California’s iconic salmon fishery and the San Francisco Bay Delta Estuary by elevating agricultural water uses above all other water needs, likely leading to more extinct fish species, 40 miles of the San Joaquin River dried up, fewer jobs, and more struggling small farmers.

Sacrifice Otters for Shellfish Act of 2012

On 4/19, the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs held a hearing on H.R. 4043.  While the history behind this bill is long and complicated, essentially it would prevent the Fish and Wildlife Service from ending a program in which the Service removes sea otters from a “no-otter zone” off California. In this zone, sea otters are exempt from many of the ESA’s protections, despite the fact that they’ve been listed as a threatened species since 1977. The Service wants to end this harmful program in order to enable sea otters to expand their territory, which is considered critical to the recovery of the species. But the shellfish industry isn’t too keen on the idea since sea otters compete with them for shellfish.   

Destroying Wildlife Habitat

On 4/17, the House passed, by a vote of 235-144, the misnamed Sportsman’s Heritage Act (H.R. 4089). While proponents of this bill claim it protects hunting and fishing rights, it would actually do the opposite.  This is because H.R. 4089 aims to eliminate safeguards that provide the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service (USFS) with the tools necessary to manage federal lands in a way that ensures wildlife habitat is conserved.  It could also result in energy development and mineral extraction on public lands that are currently open to hunting and fishing, thereby limiting and/or precluding recreational activities on these lands in favor of extractive industries.  The bill would also allow the importation of Canadian polar bear trophies, taken before the species was listed under the Endangered Species Act, despite that the hunters who seek to import these trophies had over a year's notice that the polar bear would likely be listed.

Piping Plovers and Sea Turtles

On 4/27, the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on H.R. 4094 – a bill introduced by Rep. Jones (R-NC) that would block implementation of a National Park Service plan to protect beach-nesting piping plovers, a threatened species, and sea turtles, from vehicles at Cape Hatteras. 

Prior to the NPS plan, high vehicle traffic on Cape Hatteras beaches was not only interrupting bird and sea turtle nesting and feeding patterns, but it was also killing these species directly by crushing them. Fortunately, the plan, which strikes a balance between the needs of the ecosystem and local businesses, has enabled these species to rebound!  And, despite claims to the contrary by H.R. 4094 supporters, the plan hasn’t had negative impacts on the local economy.  Instead, seashore visitation has been stable or increasing, and the local tourism board has shown growth in revenue, despite the ongoing national economic crisis. Take one look at this picture and you can see why allowing vehicles to drive wherever they want on North Carolina’s beaches is a bad idea. Why can’t Rep. Jones (R-NC) see that?

                                        Courtesy of the National Park Service

Fairy Shrimp

The GOP’s effort to brush aside environmental laws whenever it’s convenient continued this month with Rep. Bilbray’s (R-CA) introduction of H.R. 4244. The bill would shortcut the Endangered Species Act's process for protecting listed species at the expense of the endangered fairy shrimp – translucent, slender crustaceans that swim on their backs by waving their swimming legs slowly.