It’s Time To Stop Shortchanging Endangered Species

Instead of weakening the laws that protect our national heritage, we need to redouble our efforts to preserve it.
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Michael Fiala / Reuters

Endangered species recovery efforts are being dangerously shortchanged, and with a Trump administration and Republican-controlled Congress holding the reins, many of the most imperiled creatures could be pushed to the edge of extinction – or over it.

My colleagues and I at the Center for Biological Diversity recently released a first-of-its-kind analysis that found the amount of money the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service receives to recover endangered species – from birds and fish to plants and mammals – is just 3.5 percent of what is needed.

That number is frighteningly low, and it is unacceptable. Indeed, roughly one out of every four endangered species received less than $10,000 in 2014, the last year that data is available, and 43 species received less than $1,000. Some, like a plant called the Laguna Beach live forever, a beautiful Southern California succulent, received zero dollars in 2013 and 2014.

If we’re going to continue to stop species from vanishing forever, we must provide much more funding.

The Fish and Wildlife Service receives about $82 million each year for endangered species recovery. That may sound like a lot at first. But when you look at the actual dollar amount the agency needs to fulfill all the recovery plans it has written – many of which are just sitting on the shelf due to a lack of funding – you realize it’s nowhere near enough. Based on the Center’s analysis of federal recovery plans for listed species, $2.3 billion per year, or 28 times the current funding, is needed if species are going to be fully recovered.

But here’s something not everyone knows about engendered species recovery – it works, and it works really, really well. Even with such inadequate funding allocated to bringing back imperiled animals, the protections afforded by the Endangered Species Act have been incredibly successful. The Act has been so effective since being written into law in 1973 that it has saved more than 99 percent of species under its protection from extinction and put hundreds on the road to recovery, including the bald eagle, gray whale and many others.

Despite that, politicians like Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and his cronies want to gut the Endangered Species Act. In December, as the House Rules Committee debated legislation that would weaken the Act by rolling back protections for endangered salmon and California Bay Delta smelt, Bishop readily admitted he “would be happy to invalidate the Endangered Species Act.”

Instead of weakening the laws that protect our national heritage, we need to redouble our efforts to preserve it. The Center for Biological Diversity report on the Fish and Wildlife Service’s funding recommends increasing the annual appropriation for endangered species recovery from $82 million currently to the $2.3 billion needed over 10 years, which is less than subsidies given to oil and gas companies to extract fossil fuels from public lands and a tiny fraction of the roughly $3.7 trillion federal budget in 2015.

Until that happens, our report recommends expanding two existing “extinction prevention programs” for Hawaiian plants and land and tree snails, and creating three more for North American butterflies, Southeast mussels and Southwest fish. These are some of the most endangered species groups in the country. The current programs are partnerships between the Fish and Wildlife Service, state of Hawaii and University of Hawaii, and have been very successful. The Center’s report recommends funding each of these programs at $25 million per year for a total of $125 million.

Given the hostility among some Congressional Republicans and cabinet appointees like President-elect Trump’s pick for Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, the prospects for increased funding for endangered species recovery in the next four years might seem dim, but endangered species and the Endangered Species Act enjoy strong support among the American public and if we make our voice heard, it can happen.

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