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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

New Threats to the Endangered Species Act.

The current Congress, especially the House of Representatives, has distinguished itself as one of the most anti-environmental on record. After setting their sights on roadless forest and wilderness protections, exempting our cornerstone environmental laws in the name of border patrol and artificially increasing logging, it appears they are now after endangered species.

The House Natural Resources Committee recently held the first in a series of oversight hearings on the Endangered Species Act , The Committee Chairman, Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA04) from eastern Washington, argues that the nearly 40-year old landmark environmental law is broken and needs fixing. In his opening statement to the committee, Hastings states, “of the species listed in the past 38 years, only 20 have been declared recovered. That’s a 1% recovery rate.”

At first blush, one percent is not the picture of success, but consider what the Endangered Species Act really is. It is the emergency room for species on the brink of extinction. Species which have seen their habitat decline by 90% due to logging road building and development, struggle to adapt to effects of global warming or suffer impacts from pollution. These species are in the Intensive Care Unit and are fighting for their lives.

This type of care is by definition expensive and not always successful. It is a last resort. A better approach than changing the Endangered Species Act would be to treat the reasons why species end up on the list in the first place. Healthcare professionals preach preventative medicine like exercise, diet, stress management and regular check ups. Perhaps what we really need to do to protect species and reduce the list of endangered species is to protect and restore wildlife habitat, control pollution, reduce greenhouse emissions and practice sustainable development.

Some of Washington State’s most well-known and iconic animals are endangered; including the local Orca whale, several salmon species, Northern Spotted Owls, and sea otters. There are also hundreds of threatened, endangered, and declining species that find refuge in the roadless and wild areas in Washington State.

While no bill has yet been introduced on changes to the Endangered Species Act, I worry what may be around the corner in this Congress. Legislation has already been introduced that would sell off our public lands, allow construction of military bases in our National Parks and preclude future wilderness designations.

What’s next?

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