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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

House committee takes aim at endangered species

In recent months, dozens of Republican lawmakers in the U.S. Congress, particularly in the U.S. House of Representatives, have been waging a hot war on wildlife. Last week the House voted to repeal restrictions on baiting of grizzly bears, killing of wolf pups in their dens, and other extreme trophy hunting methods on National Park Service lands in Alaska. This follows a similar vote in February that allowed these sickening and despicable practices on Alaska’s national wildlife refuges—pristine federal lands where wild animals should be safe from such threats and cruelty and where there are no human-wildlife conflicts to motivate control actions.

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Photo courtesy of hkuchera/iStock.com

Today, the House Natural Resources Committee is poised to expand this lethal assault by taking up a slate of bills that threaten to gut the Endangered Species Act. This package of dangerous legislation will prioritize politics over science and undermine our ability to protect imperiled creatures, both in the United States and across the globe, from the brink of extinction. Here are some of the bills on the docket today:

H.R. 3668, the so-called “Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Act,” is a grab bag of anti-wildlife provisions put together for the trophy hunting lobby. It provides a sweetheart deal to help 41 wealthy trophy hunters import the heads and hides of rare polar bears they’ve shot in Canada. The animals were not shot for their meat, but just for trophies and bragging rights. It’s the latest in a series of these special interest import allowances and it encourages trophy hunters to kill rare species around the world and then wait for a government hand-out to enable them to bring back their trophies. Another provision would open millions of acres of federal public lands to painful steel-jawed leghold traps, killing and maiming mountain lions, bears, wolves, bobcats, and non-target animals such as endangered species and family pets.

H.R. 424, best described as the “War on Wolves Act,” would remove ESA protections for gray wolves in three Great Lakes states and Wyoming—just weeks after a federal court ruled that the delisting plan for wolves in the Great Lakes was illegal. This legislative attempt to subvert the federal courts amounts to Congress cherry-picking wolves from the list of threatened and endangered species, and all but guarantees that hundreds of wolves would be subjected to baiting, hound hunting, and cruel trapping practices. Removing federal protections and turning wolf management over to the states has led to politically-motivated, fear-based killing programs targeting wolves. In a three-year period, trophy hunters and trappers killed more than 1,500 wolves in the Great Lakes states alone, and that killing spree stopped only because of a successful legal action led by The HSUS. Left to their own devices in the past, states have authorized the use of strangling cable neck snares; cruel steel-jawed, leg-hold traps; and hounding with packs of radio-collared trailing dogs. It is clear that federal oversight is necessary to provide adequate protections for gray wolves as required by the ESA.

H.R. 2603 would strip ESA protections for foreign species held in captive settings in the United States, such as elephants, tigers, lions, leopards, rhinos, and chimpanzees. This innocuous-sounding and deceptively named “Saving America’s Endangered Species Act” could actually eliminate federal protections for imperiled animals—for example, by allowing the interstate commerce of elephant ivory, legalizing captive trophy hunting of African lions, and allowing laboratories to resume invasive experiments on chimpanzees in this country. Endangered and threatened species, whether native to the U.S. or not, desperately need as many protections as they can get. Removing protections for these animals under the ESA is nothing more than a nod to the trophy-hunting and wildlife trafficking industries, and sends a message that it’s okay to exploit rare and endangered wildlife as long as they’re not native to our country. 

A number of other Orwellian sounding bills are on the committee’s schedule today, from the “Listing Reform Act” to the “State, Tribal, and Local Species Transparency and Recovery Act” to the “Endangered Species Litigation Reasonableness Act.” They are all designed to chip away at the ESA, one of America’s most effective environmental laws and one whose reach is global. It serves as an essential safety net for imperiled plants, fish, and wildlife, and has saved more than 99 percent of species listed under its care from extinction. The ESA has seen such remarkable success because it relies on best-available science to make listing decisions, and empowers citizens to participate in and ensure adequate implementation of the law. We must not allow politicians to attack the very foundation on which the ESA was written.  

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