May Threats to the Endangered Species Act

This Congress, we’ve seen no less than 23 bills that would weaken the Endangered Species Act or exempt certain animals from its protections.  Here are some of the most egregious of these bills:  

  • The Polar Bear Delisting Act (H.R. 39), introduced by Rep. Young (R-AK), would strip polar bears of Endangered Species Act protections, despite the fact that its numbers are dwindling due to melting sea ice;
  • The “DELIST Act” (H.R. 1042), introduced by Rep. Baca (D-CA), would amend the Endangered Species Act so that a species must be deemed extinct if its population has not “substantially increased” within 15 years of the date it was listed under the Act; and
  • H.R. 1251, introduced by Rep. Costa (D-CA), would reduce Delta smelt and salmon populations by reducing water supplies and causing increased entrainment of fish into water pumps.

In order to keep everyone up to date, I will be writing a blog on bills introduced each month that attempt to derail the Endangered Species Act.  This blog will also include updates on bills introduced in previous months.  Joining the list of Endangered Species Act attacks in May are the following:


On May 10, Rep. Miller (R-MI) introduced H.R. 1819, which would eliminate Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes, Arizona, New Mexico, and portions of the Northern Rockies that were not included in the rider to the current CR, as long as wolf populations hit certain arbitrary levels.  Not only does this bill fail to consider the flawed state management plans that have prevented some of these states (eg., Wyoming) from controlling their own wolf populations, but also the population numbers identified in the bill may be inadequate for ensuring long-term survival of the species. For example, the bill states that Arizona and New Mexico may manage their own wolf populations if the combined population of the two states is a mere 100 wolves.

Bluefin Tuna

On May 10, Rep. Guinta (R-NH) introduced a bill (H.R. 1806) that would prevent the Bluefin tuna from being protected under the Endangered Species Act, despite the fact that the species has long been plagued by overfishing.  In May 2010, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal petition seeking protections for the Bluefin tuna, but the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has not yet decided whether to list the species.


On May 4, Rep. McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) introduced a bill (H.R. 1719) that would require the Bonneville Power Administration, the Western Area Power Administration, the Southwestern Power Administration, and the Southeastern Power Administration to include the direct and indirect costs of agency compliance with the Endangered Species Act in monthly bills sent to customers.  Additionally, the bill requires each of these entities to provide Congress with an annual estimate of the costs of Endangered Species Act compliance.

While reporting of costs itself doesn’t undermine the Endangered Species Act, improper reporting could distort public perceptions of and support for wildlife conservation.  And there is reason to believe these costs might be exaggerated since the Bonneville Power Administration reportedly already issues grossly inflated estimates of the costs of complying with the Endangered Species Act in the Columbia-Snake River, and the bill doesn’t require reporting on the many benefits of Endangered Species Act compliance.

Additionally, on May 11, Rep. Nunes (R-CA) introduced a bill (H.R. 1837) that would block protections for California’s declining Bay Delta by putting in place an outdated and discredited agreement that would overrule ongoing collaborative conservation efforts.  Further, the bill would prevent California from adopting state regulations for endangered species that are more restrictive than the discredited agreement.

If passed, this bill would threaten fish species – including the Delta smelt, Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley spring-run salmon, and Central Valley steelhead – with extinction due to increased entrainment of fish into water pumps and reduced water supplies.  The House Natural Resources Committee’s subcommittee on Water and Power will hold a hearing on this bill on June 2.

Entire ESA

H.R. 1505, which was introduced by Rep. Bishop (R-UT), would weaken the Endangered Species Act by exempting the Secretary of Homeland Security from complying with all provisions of the Act (and many other environmental laws) for any activities needed to achieve operational control of the U.S. border, provided that those activities occur within 100 miles of the border.  Over the years, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) border activities have resulted in widespread and long-term harm to many species and their habitats.  If this bill passed, even the most imperiled species would not be protected from harm caused by fences, vehicles, roads, and the like.  DHS would not even be required to consider the impacts of its actions on imperiled species or meet with the Fish and Wildlife Service to discuss ways to minimize those impacts -- both requirements of the Endangered Species Act.