Sleazy Rider

If the GOP-led Congress gets its way, wildlife could be in big trouble.

September 11, 2015

As part of an attempt to use critical spending bills to further their anti-environmental agenda, some Republicans in the U.S. House and Senate are trying to gut fundamental laws that protect this country’s wild residents and their natural habitats. The strategy is to attach provisions, called “riders,” to proposed budget legislation for the next fiscal year, in the hopes that those add-ons (which would otherwise be massively unpopular with the American people) will become law with little scrutiny or outcry.

The riders would endanger all forms of environmental protection—clean air, clean water, public health, climate action—but wildlife in particular is in the GOP's sights. Many of these sneaky additions would contribute to the decline and possible extinction of iconic North American species, as well as wildlife around the world.

President Obama can use his executive power to veto these attacks, but it would be better if they never even reach his desk—especially when attached to critical budget measures. A standoff over spending bills this fall (the fiscal year expires October 1) could trigger a government shutdown. The last one, in 2013, cost the U.S. economy $24 billion.

Here’s a sampling of the species at risk in the upcoming budget battles.

Sea Otters

Photo: Gregory Smith/Flickr

A GOP provision would allow the U.S. Navy to ignore existing laws that protect marine mammals, leaving the military free to conduct activities that could potentially kill or injure protected populations off two Southern California islands.

Migratory Birds

Photo: Wagner Machado Carlos Lemes/Flickr

Enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a conservation law in place since 1918, would be prohibited. The law protects more than 800 species, from the singing eastern bluebird to the seafaring blue-footed booby to the burrowing owl.

Elephants

Photo: Matt Champlin/Getty

The Obama administration’s past, current, and future efforts to restrict the trade of ivory would be blocked, and elephants would face even more danger from poachers.

Sage Grouse

Photo: Alan Krakauer/Flickr

Three separate measures would block the greater sage grouse and Gunnison sage grousetwo iconic Western birds eking out existence on ever-dwindling habitatfrom receiving any protections under the Endangered Species Act.

Lesser Prairie Chicken

Photo: Greg Kramos/USFWS

Three of the GOP's proposals would take this threatened member of the grouse family off the Endangered Species List; one of the three bars the bird from receiving protections for at least six years.

American Burying Beetle

Photo: Lindsay Vivian/USFWS

Because it sometimes crawls in the way of agriculture, transportation, and pipeline projects, this colorful insect, and crucial member of the ecosystem (it eats carrion and is known as "nature's gravedigger"), would be immediately and permanently removed from protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Gray Wolves

Photo: Corbis Images

Separate House and Senate measures (containing identical language) call for taking gray wolves in the Great Lakes and Wyoming off the Endangered Species List. And another House measure would thwart recovery efforts in Washington, Oregon, and Utah, where these predators are just beginning to rebound.

Northern Long-Eared Bat

Photo: Dave Thomas/Flickr

An existing rule that eliminates crucial protections for this species, which is battling against both habitat destruction and the dreaded white-nose syndrome, would be expanded and solidified.

West Coast Salmon

Photo: dsafanda/iStock

Funding for the deliveries of much-needed water to the depleted Trinity and Klamath rivers would be blocked, making it even harder for these floundering fish to survive.

Sonoran Desert Tortoise

Photo: Yasemin Suçek/iStock

A candidate for endangered species status since 2010, the tortoise would be prevented from receiving any federal protections.

Rabbitsfoot and Neosho Mussels

Photo: Corey Raimond/Flickr

Degraded riverine habitat has put these two freshwater mussels on the Endangered Species List, but now a rider seeks to block all federal funding for their protection and recovery.

Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse

Photo: Shattil & Rozinski/Nature Picture Library

This threatened (and much maligned) little mouse wouldn’t receive any federal money for its recovery out West, and important programs seeking to protect its habitat would be eliminated.


onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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