Today the House Resources Committee voted out two bills that represent a radical effort to undermine our nation's most important wildlife conservation law. Since its passage over 30 years ago, the Endangered Species Act has prevented the extinction of hundreds of species of imperiled fish, wildlife, and plants.
"This is not about a choice between economic development and endangered species -- this is a choice between taking sensible precautions or letting species be lost forever," said Marty Hayden, Legislative Director for Earthjustice. "The Endangered Species Act requires us to look before we leap in making decisions that could eliminate valuable parts of our natural heritage. These two bills would try to cut so many holes in that safety net that even an elephant would slip right through."
H.R. 1662, the so-called "Sound Science for Endangered Species Planning Act of 2003" introduced by Representative Greg Walden (R-OR), attempts to politicize the use of science in the Endangered Species Act. The bill seeks to eliminate the Endangered Species Act's current requirement that the most rigorous science available be used to develop balanced solutions to prevent extinction and aid in the recovery of endangered species. Instead of leaving science to scientists, H.R. 1662 attempts to allow political appointees to dictate what constitutes "sound science." The bill also seeks to require additional layers of review to delay any actions meant to protect species.
H.R. 2933, the "Critical Habitat Reform Act of 2003," ignores the obvious: the need to protect the homes of rare fish, plants, and other wildlife. One of the primary reasons why species become endangered in the first place is habitat loss. H.R. 2933 attempts to make designation of critical habitat -- the places that species need to survive and recover -- voluntary rather than mandatory. In addition, the measure tries to narrow the definition of critical habitat in such a way as to abandon the primary goal of habitat protection under current law: the recovery of threatened and endangered species.
"Any first-grader can tell you that every species needs a home," said Hayden. "That's why the Endangered Species Act currently requires that we identify, and protect, the areas that a species needs to survive and recover. If we don't protect the areas that species need to restore healthy populations, we might as well put them in a zoo."
Earthjustice commends the efforts of the ranking member of the House Resources Committee, Representative Nick Joe Rahall (D-WV) for his tireless defense of the Endangered Species Act, and his opposition to these attempts to play politics with species protections.
"Rep. Rahall has been a staunch champion of the Endangered Species Act," Hayden said. "We hope that through his leadership, and that of his like-minded colleagues, Congress will block these efforts to undermine protections for our natural heritage. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to be good stewards of the environment, and leave behind a legacy of protecting endangered species and the special places they call home."