Goodwill Towards Wildlife Is Lacking in Congress

More harmful amendments threaten imperiled species, refuges and the Endangered Species Act

The holiday season is here, with its warm message of giving. But there's hardly a spirit of goodwill in Congress right now, at least when it comes to imperiled wildlife and our environment. Congressional leaders are negotiating the final budget for the federal government and a slew of destructive amendments or "riders" that attack America's wildlife, water, lands and air are on the table. It's no way to ring in the New Year, that's for sure.

As I've said before, these kinds of backdoor attacks are nothing new, but only the latest wave in a flood of legislative proposals that would undermine imperiled wildlife conservation in the United States. Since January alone, there have been over 85 legislative proposals circulated in Congress that would dramatically weaken the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Potential amendments that could be included in an omnibus bill run the gamut from blocking core ESA protections for imperiled species to undermining the use of the best available science for species conservation. These anti-wildlife legislative proposals are unprecedented in number and aggressiveness, and this disturbing trend shows no sign of slowing down.

The fact is that these riders are unnecessary and destructive distractions from the real task at hand: funding the federal government. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been scraping by on limited resources for years now, and these cynical amendments only add insult to injury.

One potential rider would mandate an incommensurate land exchange and construction of a destructive road through designated wilderness in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. This, despite the fact that the Secretary of the Interior has already rejected the proposed road more than once! If enacted, this rider would ensure irreparable damage to wildlife habitat in the refuge and set a terrible precedent that would jeopardize wildlife refuge and wilderness protections on public lands across the United States.

Yet another rider, backed by the National Rifle Association, would block the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from implementing a proposed regulation to dramatically tighten controls on the sale of elephant ivory in the United States ivory in order to thwart the illegal ivory market. This rider would seal the fate of thousands of elephants that will be slaughtered for their tusks this year. It's irresponsible, inappropriate and the antithesis of President Obama's pledge to stop trafficking in smuggled ivory in the United States.

These two riders would be bad enough on their own, but they come on top of a tidal wave of potential amendments solely intended to undermine and weaken the ESA. Among other attacks, these riders would remove necessary protections for species at risk of extinction and prevent future protection for imperiled species. This unrelenting siege on a popular, bedrock wildlife conservation law is unacceptable and shouldn't be tolerated a moment longer.

Sneaking harmful policy amendments into appropriations legislation is no way to lead our nation. And time and time again, we've seen that ESA opponents in Congress are grossly out of step with the American public. Recent polls show that 90 percent of American voters support the ESA overall, and two-thirds of voters say they'd be more likely to vote for politicians who support the ESA, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and other critical environmental laws. So who are these lawmakers trying to please? That's an easy answer: special economic interests that will stop at nothing to improve their bottom line.

Fortunately, there are lawmakers in both the House and Senate committed to protecting the ESA and other cornerstones of environmental protection in the United States, and they've been working hard to keep these riders out of the final spending bill. But enough is enough. It's time for Congress to stop slipping destructive anti-wildlife amendments into the appropriations bill, to do their jobs and fund the government. Let's ring in the New Year with a clean Omnibus Spending Bill, and a thriving wildlife heritage for future generations.