This election isn't good news for wildlife. Although the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was signed by Richard Nixon and passed with bipartisan support, times have changed. Politicians now use endangered species to score cheap political points, scapegoating wildlife protections for complex problems. Relying on misleading, tired old refrains like fish vs. farmer, they ignore root causes and real solutions in favor of dismantling wildlife protections that will do little to address problems they care about.
In the House, Committee for Natural Resources Chair (an endangered species ally) Congressman Nick Rahall (D-WV) will lose his leadership. With the Republicans taking over, Congressman Doc Hastings (R-WA), the Ranking Republican, is poised to become Chairman. Congressman Hastings, elected under the Contract with America banner, received a League of Conservation Voters (LCV) score of 0% most years. On endangered species, he supported President Bush's crippling of science in endangered species decisions. He advocated for the Columbia River to be prioritized for irrigation instead of wildlife protections under the ESA. And he voted for Congressman Pombo's 2005 Extinction Bill to dismantle endangered species protections.
Congressman Rob Bishop (R-UT), ranking member of the National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee and Western Caucus Chairman wants to deslist the wolf via Congress and to open more public land to drilling. The Congressman states that the ESA "overemphasizes listing" (even though listed species are much less likely to go extinct), opposes the listing of Sage grouse as endangered, blames the Sonoran Pronghorn for our immigration problems, and reproaches endangered species for California's drier conditions.
The current Ranking Minority Member of the Water and Power Subcommittee, Congressman Tom McClintock (R-CA) -- with a 0% LCV score -- opposes protecting the ecosystem and endangered species of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The former Chair of the committee, Don Young (R-AK) created the ESA Task Force chaired by Congressman Richard Pombo, leading to Pombo's ultimately unsuccessful Extinction Bill. Other wildlife foes on the committee -- each with an LCV score of 0-4% and on the wrong side of endangered species issues -- include: Congressmen Paul Broun (R-GA), Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), John Fleming (R-LA), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Adrian Smith (R-NE) and Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis (R-WY).
Unfortunately, one of Pombo's staunches allies -- Congressman Steve Pearce (R-NM) -- is back in his old seat. Last time around, Congressman Pearce went after the Mexican wolf reintroduction program, stating that nothing is more attractive to wolves than the sound of a crying baby. If he gets back on this committee, Congressman Pearce could once again make quite a team with the other wildlife foes, unrestrained by any moderate, pro-wildlife Republicans (none of whom currently serve on the committee).
Congressman Jerry Lewis (R-CA) is the Ranking Minority Member in line to take over the Appropriations Committee. He consistently voted against endangered species, even cosponsoring a bill that weakened the ESA, under the guise of flood control. He vehemently opposed the protection of the endangered San Bernardino kangaroo rat (much cuter than it sounds) and hired a lobbying firm to find ways of weakening protections for it and the endangered Delhi sands flower-loving fly.
Congressman Mike Simpson (R-ID) -- a member of Speaker-in-waiting John Boehner's inner circle--is in line for Chairman of Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, which approves U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) budgets. While he has been a conservationist on some issues, like wilderness designation for the Boulder-White Clouds range, there are still strong reasons for concern, namely his LCV score of 6%, his legislation to delist wolves and his co-sponsorship of legislation to repeal the designation of critical habitat.
In the Senate, the news appears better only on the surface. There were some very important wins, like Senator Barbara Boxer, Chairman of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. But, active endangered species foes like Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) are also back in. And here, Democrats are problematic, entertaining exemptions to the ESA for salmon and wolves. Senators Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Max Baucus (D-MT) are particularly in positions from which they could do a lot of damage. If they pursue their exemptions strategy, we'll see a precedent whereby Congress gets into the wildlife management business, while hacking away at the ESA. Insider sources claim we're likely to see this issue in the lame duck session, probably attached to an appropriations bill.
Holding the line on endangered species protections in Congress just got incredibly challenging. In light of that, we hope President Obama will use administrative tools to strengthen wildlife conservation. We need a FWS Director who can implement scientific integrity, consultation requirements for drilling, and guidance on protecting endangered species from climate change. Even without Congress, President Obama can keep species from going extinct on our watch.