Endangered Species Protections Under Senate Scrutiny

Congress should keep politics out of wildlife protection


Susan Holmes, 202-667-4500

The following is a statement from Earthjustice Senior Legislative Representative Susan Holmes in response to today’s Senate committee hearing regarding the Endangered Species Act:

“Today the Senate will hold the first in a series of hearings to examine the Endangered Species Act.

“From the gray whale to the Florida panther, from the bald eagle to the grizzly bear, the Endangered Species Act is working to safeguard the species we love from the threat of extinction. Because it preserves plants, animals, and the ecosystems they depend on, the Endangered Species Act is perhaps the most powerful and significant environmental legislation ever passed in the United States.

“The Endangered Species Act currently protects over 1,250 species. The vast majority of these animals, plants, birds, and fish have completely recovered, seen their habitat protected, or had their populations stabilized or increased. In fact, about 64% of the mammals and 68% of the bird species listed since 1973 (the year the Endangered Species Act became law) were classified as “improving and stable” by 1994. A recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife report shows that 68% of species that have been listed for at least six years are stable or improving, where a population trend is known.

“Just as important, millions of acres of forests, beaches, and wetlands—the essential habitats of these rare species—have been protected from degradation and development.

“We owe it to our children and grandchildren to be good stewards of the environment, and to leave behind a legacy of protecting endangered species and the special places they call home. We have a responsibility to prevent the extinction of plants and animals, because once they are gone, we cannot bring them back.

“Unfortunately, this belief—shared by 86% of the American public—is not shared by the Bush Administration and certain members of Congress. Developers and the politicians they give money to are trying to weaken the Endangered Species Act. They are manipulating science to fit their political agenda, and working to remove the checks and balances that help protect species from special interests.

“Earlier this year, a survey conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists of Fish and Wildlife Service biologists found that more than half of all respondents whose work is related to endangered species scientific findings (56%) knew of cases where ‘commercial interests have inappropriately induced the reversal or withdrawal of scientific conclusions or decisions through political intervention.’ More than a third (42%) said they could not openly express ‘concerns about the biological needs of species and habitats without fear of retaliation’ in public while nearly a third (30%) felt they could not do so even inside the confines of the agency. Almost a third (32%) felt they are not allowed to do their jobs as scientists.

“To best protect wildlife for future generations, we must keep politics out of science. To maintain strong safeguards for vanishing species, we must keep politics out of the Endangered Species Act. We hope the Senate will work to ensure that the Act continues to provide the protections needed by rare animals and plants, and not allow special interests to trump our natural heritage.”

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