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July 18, 2011

Open Season on the Endangered Species Act?

Earlier this year, I wrote about an unparalleled assault on the Endangered Species Act after an amendment to the federal budget bill specifically excluded gray wolves in Montana and Idaho from protection. Since then, things have gotten worse both for the wolves and the ESA.

Last week, the bad news came from the state of Wyoming. The state is very close to having an approved plan that would put wolves under state management. Unfortunately, Wyoming's idea of a wolf-management plan may have more in common with the buffalo massacres of the 19th century than with responsible science. If state regulators have their way, most of the wolves outside of Yellowstone National Park would be on "shoot on sight" predator status. Nearly half of Wyoming's endangered wolves could be killed.

Tell the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that Wyoming's wolves should be managed at least as responsibly as in other Rocky Mountain states.

Unfortunately, what has happened to gray wolves is only the beginning. Already, other species are being singled out by politicians who want to circumvent the ESA. The sand dune lizard in Texas and the lesser prairie hen in Oklahoma were each the subject of recent amendments in the Senate that would have exempted them. More such attempts are sure to follow.

At the same time, though, congressional opponents of the Endangered Species Act are trying to cripple the law itself. Current proposals include prohibiting consideration of the impact of climate change on species, decimating or outright eliminating programs that work with landowners and others to promote wildlife conservation, and even forbidding the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to spend money on new listings of threatened and endangered species or on designations of critical habitat for current species.

Apparently, it's open season on the Endangered Species Act -- a law that for nearly 40 years has successfully prevented the extinction of plants and animals and helped threatened populations recover. The ESA has worked because it's based on sound science and backed by the rule of law. But once you start undermining the law to satisfy the demands of special interests, each new crack in the foundation weakens the entire structure.

The timing couldn't be worse. The reality is that the work of protecting species will only get tougher on a warming planet as habitats shift and the scramble for scarce resources intensifies. Even with the protections afforded by the ESA, some species aren't going to make it. If we allow greed and politics to take the place of science and the law, then the wolves, the panthers, the polar bears, and, yes, the sand dune lizards, won't get even the chance to survive. 

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