For Immediate Release, May 14, 2014

Contact: Brett Hartl, (202) 817-8121

House Natural Resources Committee Holds Yet Another Hearing Attacking Endangered Species Act

House Republicans Seek to Undermine Protection of Critical Habitat for
Southeast Mussels, Other Endangered Wildlife

BATESVILLE, Ark.— Rep. “Doc” Hastings brings his anti-Endangered Species Act sideshow to a field hearing today at the University of Arkansas Community College in Batesville, where he and his Tea Party colleagues will continue their partisan assault on the landmark wildlife law by seeking to undercut critical habitat protections that provide an essential lifeline to rare and vanishing species. A focus of the hearing will be recent critical habitat designations for two southeastern mussels, the Neosho mucket and rabbitsfoot, which include 769 river miles in Arkansas.

“You can’t protect animals like the rabbitsfoot mussel without protecting the places they live,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Critical habitat has a minimal impact on private landowners, but makes a big difference to the survival of endangered species. Studies show that species with critical habitat protection are twice as likely to be recovering than species without.”

Today’s hearing comes after Rep. Hastings (R-Wash.) and his ultraconservative supporters in the House introduced four bills that would not only weaken the power of the Endangered Species Act to save the nation’s most imperiled plants and animals but would purposefully undercut the power of citizens to help enforce the law that has prevented the extinction of 99 percent of the plants and animals it protects.

“The American public overwhelmingly supports protecting endangered species,” said Greenwald. “Protecting habitat for southeastern mussels helps us all by saving the rivers that are a source of drinking water, food and enjoyment. What these extremist politicians are telling us is that they couldn’t care less about the health of the water shared by the wildlife, plants and citizens of the Southeast.”

Likely absent from the hearing will be the most important facts about the freshwater extinction crisis in the Southeast and the need to protect habitat for these two critically imperiled mussels and many other species. Those facts include:

  • The Neosho mucket and rabbitsfoot mussels have been extirpated from almost two-thirds of their historic ranges. Since first being identified as imperiled, the Neosho mussel has disappeared from two more rivers systems. 
  • The Southeast is home to more species of freshwater animals than any comparable area, including 493 fishes (62 percent of U.S. fish species), at least 269 mussels (91 percent of U.S. mussel species), and 241 dragonflies and damselflies (48 percent of all those in North America). The Southeast also contains more than two-thirds of North America’s species of crayfishes and more amphibians and aquatic reptiles than any other region.
  • The Southeast’s staggering variety of freshwater life forms and their habitat also make up one of the most imperiled ecosystems on the planet. Water pollution, development, logging, poor agricultural practices, dams, mining, invasive species and other threats have caused more than 50 species to go extinct in the region and a similar fate is looming for more than 28 percent of the region’s fishes, more than 48 percent of its crayfishes and more than 70 percent of its mussels. The majority of imperiled aquatic species in the Southeast are not protected by the Endangered Species Act or any other law.

“Given that one of the world’s great extinction crises is happening right in front of our eyes, the Republican Party’s hostility to common-sense habitat protections for these mussel species is a sorry testament to its out-of-touchness. These are protections that, without a doubt, will help get not only the mussels but also our rivers on the road to recovery,” said Greenwald.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 775,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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