Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, September 8, 2014

Contact: Brett Hartl, (202) 817-8121

House Republicans to Hold Hearing Attacking Critically Endangered Species

 Tea Party Bills Offer Extinction as Only Solution for Three Endangered Species

WASHINGTON— In yet another hearing targeting endangered species protections, on Tuesday Tea Party Republicans, led by Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) will attack protections for three extremely imperiled species — the lesser prairie chicken, delta smelt, and Utah prairie dog. The hearing will discuss proposed legislation that would put each of the three species on a fast track to extinction. The committee held a separate hearing on Monday in Pennsylvania attacking proposed protections for a fourth species, the northern long-eared bat, which has declined by more than 90 percent.

“House Republicans are clearly out of touch with an American public that broadly supports protections for endangered species,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These hearings are nothing more than pandering to the special interests in the oil and gas, logging and other industries that make large campaign contributions to Rep. Doc Hastings and his ilk.”

The hearing today focuses on three different bills designed to gut the Endangered Species Act. H.R. 1927 would weaken protections for delta smelt and endangered salmon in California by prohibiting implementation of water-pumping restrictions and other protections required under both state and federal law. H.R. 4256, introduced by Utah’s Republican congressional delegation, requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to “count” all individuals of a species prior to making any listing decision, and is largely focused on Utah prairie dogs, which the Utah Republicans falsely claim is not being counted on private lands. H.R. 4866 would drop Endangered Species Act protections for lesser prairie chickens and prohibit any protection under the Act until 2020. 

“Whenever we show the wisdom to use it, the Endangered Species Act continues to succeed in preventing species extinction,” said Hartl. “But rather than strengthening the law by better funding conservation efforts, House Republicans are showing their true vitriol toward our most imperiled wildlife by limiting use of the Act and proposing changes to the law that will directly harm species.” 

H.R. 1927 would drastically weaken environmental protections for endangered salmon, delta smelt and other wildlife in California’s Bay-Delta estuary. The bill would prohibit implementation of pumping restrictions set forth in biological opinions relating to the Bay-Delta water-pumping operations as well as prohibit implementation of other conservation measures required by state law. The conservation recommendations in the biological opinions have been upheld by independent scientific reviews and the federal courts. 

H.R. 4256’s attack on Utah prairie dogs is particularly problematic because rare, endangered species are often difficult to count. Because of this, the bill would prevent many imperiled species from being protected. Republicans from Utah claim the bill is necessary because the Fish and Wildlife Service is not counting Utah prairie dogs on private lands in determining whether these colonial mammals continue to need protection; but this is not the case. Rather the agency is only counting prairie dogs that are protected as counting toward the recovery of the species, which does include some private lands where landowners have agreed to provide protection.

Finally, H.R. 4866’s directive to deny lesser prairie chickens protection by legislative fiat  ignores the fact that the increasingly rare species has lost roughly 90 percent of its habitat to development. After 16 years of waiting for federal protection, the bird was finally proposed for listing in 2013 after its population fell to only 18,000 birds, less than 1 percent of its historic abundance.

“These bills are not solutions designed to conserve and recover endangered species, they’re extinction decrees,” said Hartl. “While Republicans make a point of claiming to care about endangered species, as these bills demonstrate, they routinely oppose the on-the-ground steps necessary to actually prevent the extinction of particular species.”

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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