Dr. Jane Goodall today joined religious leaders, conservationists, and celebrities in calling for a halt to the Bush administration's plan to weaken the Endangered Species Act through funding cuts and policy changes that would undermine citizen oversight of the ESA and leave species listing decisions almost entirely in the hands of the Secretary of Interior. At news conferences held simultaneously in Washington, DC, Los Angeles, CA, Minneapolis, MN, and St. Louis, MO speakers urged the Bush team to adequately fund species protection and drop its proposals to restrict citizens' rights to hold the federal government to reasonable timelines for protecting species at risk. These proposals could spell doom for several species currently hanging in the balance. Conservationists released a report at today's events detailing the need for sufficient ESA funding by highlighting the extent of the extinction crisis in the United States. The report was released in 16 other states and the events were held across the country today to highlight the possible June 7 markup of damaging ESA legislation in the US House of Representatives.
"Today, the American people remind Congress that endangered wildlife must be protected in order to restore the balance of nature. It is Congress's duty to ensure that the visionary Endangered Species Act is fully implemented," said Brock Evans, executive director of the diverse Endangered Species Coalition. "Most Americans want their endangered species to be protected – so that's why the Bush administration is now seeking to gut the Endangered Species Act in secret back rooms, with no votes taken and no one held accountable. The American people deserve better government than that."
The heart of the matter is a small paragraph embedded deep within the President's FY 2002 budget proposal. Dubbed the "Extinction Rider," the legislation would negate the rights of citizens to sue to protect endangered species and would give Secretary of Interior Gale Norton almost complete discretion over when and whether to list threatened and endangered species. Norton has made a career of opposing endangered species listings and has long argued that the ESA is unconstitutional. The legislation could be marked up the week of June 7 in the Interior Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, chaired by Rep. Joe Skeen (R-NM).
"Taking away Americans' individual rights to use a court of law is simply outrageous and Americans should be insulted," said Buck Parker in Los Angeles, executive director of Earthjustice. "By preventing citizens from suing to get imperiled species listed, the Bush administration is effectively signing the death warrant for countless species. The law is what works, not what's broken."
The new report, Conservation In Action, states, "The deadlines and the right of citizen enforcement are absolutely critical components of the ESA," and "Over the last 10 years in California alone, 92 percent of all endangered and threatened species listings have been the direct result of citizen enforcement."
"A great deal of the past 15 years I have spent traveling in different parts of Africa and the rest of the world, struggling with a variety of conservation issues. It is tragic to see how much of the natural world we have despoiled," said Jane Goodall. "It is not only in Africa, it is not only in the developing world, it is everywhere. We are not asking for charity to help save the wildlife, we are asking for a collective investment in the future and in a legacy that we can be proud of. We do not have much time left. We must act now."
Conservation In Action lists many species that have fallen through the cracks and are currently awaiting listing action, each in danger of becoming extinct. Cerulean warblers, Aleutian sea otters, New England cottontails, and wolverines all are on that list.
Conservation In Action also points out, "Not only is the Bush Administration proposing to gut the ESA, but it is also failing to address the fundamental problem – the inability of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to list species threatened with extinction because of insufficient funding. The Bush Administration has requested $8.5 million for FWS's listing program. Yet FWS has stated that it needs $120 million, or approximately $24 million a year over the next five years."
Conservationists charge that the solution to problems facing the ESA today requires first that Congress fully fund endangered species programs, and second that the Department of Interior stop its routine violation of the clear mandates of endangered species law and court rulings.
Today's press events highlighted the extensive, broad-based support from all Americans for endangered species protections. Polls have shown that as many as 87 percent of Americans support strong endangered species protections. Many movie, television, and music celebrities as well as religious leaders joined in today's activities to show their support. Wendie Malick, Betty White, Ed Begley Jr., and Bonnie Raitt, among others, joined in and spoke out in Los Angeles to show their support and to demonstrate the popularity of America's Endangered Species Act.
"Not only does the miracle of biodiversity enrich and beautify our lives, but the many species that exist are like rivets in an airplane," said Ed Begley Jr. in Los Angeles. "An airplane that keeps us all aloft. How many rivets can we lose before we all crash and burn?"
"The laws regarding endangered species were hard won," said Betty White in Los Angeles. "Time is short and the water rises – there is no room left for indifference. We must stand up to the shortsighted who seem concerned only with the moment. What we lose today will never come back."
A copy of the report is available at: Center for Biological Diversity
Ken Goldman, 202.667.4500 x233 (Earthjustice)
Brad DeVries 800.989.8981 x237 (Defenders of Wildlife)
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