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Why Do the New House Republicans Hate the Bald Eagle?

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In 1973, Richard Nixon, a Republican president, didn't just sign the U.S. Endangered Species Act into law. His administration played a very large role in actually crafting this forward-thinking legislation. Looking at the new House Republicans today, we have to ask, "What happened?" If given the choice today, would they let the bald eagle, the very symbol of freedom and liberty, vanish forever into extinction? It certainly looks that way.

The Endangered Species Act was written with the instructions that listing decisions should be made not with regard to economic or political fortune but with the best available science. Once a species is listed as threatened or endangered, government agencies may weigh other factors, such as economics, in assigning protections to species. However, the listing process itself is to remain pure, dictated only by science.

The House's 2012 Interior appropriations bill, however, dismisses science, dismisses wildlife protections, and, if implemented, would greatly diminish our country's web of life. One especially egregious proposal, the "Extinction Rider," would block new species listings -- no additional plants or wildlife could be added to the federal endangered species list. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) already has a backlog of more than 260 species that desperately need this protection but are left to fate due to lack of resources. This rider would condemn all unprotected species to continue on the road to extinction.

The Extinction Rider also blocks FWS from granting further habitat protections to currently listed species. Loss of habitat is a leading cause of extinction for most species. Refusing to protect species' habitats will add years and substantial costs to wildlife recovery.

Another rider on the House Interior appropriations bill harms endangered wildlife and people, particularly young children. Added by Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA), this anti-wildlife, pro-poisons rider prevents the EPA from implementing commonsense measures to protect imperiled species from deadly pesticides. We still use World War II-era pesticides that are among some of the most indiscriminate and toxic. Mitigation measures like no-spray buffer zones around waterways for the most toxic pesticides would protect endangered species that are most vulnerable to these poisons, such as salmon, frogs, and sea turtles. These measures would also help protect human health. The anti-wildlife, pro-poisons rider puts the interests of the pesticides industry ahead of endangered species, and us, by blocking reasonable actions.

Two other riders are directed at specific endangered species. In an end-run around the democratic process, one would exclude the proposed Wyoming wolf management plan from being reviewed by the courts. This eliminates the ability of citizens to have a say in the species listing process, putting wolves and future targeted species at risk.

The other rider eliminates protections for threatened and endangered bighorn sheep. Bighorn sheep populations have dropped from millions to thousands due to the spread of disease from domestic sheep. As a result, federal agencies have minimized interactions between wild bighorn and domestic sheep with significant success. This rider would undo this work and the bighorn sheep's recovery in favor of a handful of sheep ranchers.

The GOP is offering these draconian riders as "cost-saving" measures, but even the most cursory examination shows that this is false. Waiting until species are on the brink of extinction is far more costly and ineffective than taking proactive measures early while there is still a viable wild population.

Furthermore, protecting species and their habitats is an economic benefit to society. The only way to claim that these measures are "cost-saving" is to look solely at their expense and not count their economic benefits. Biodiversity in our species and habitats provides us with benefits that can be quantified. Healthy, diverse habitats clean our air, filter our water, provide flood control, act as buffers to hurricanes and tropical storms, reduce the incidence of disease, house the root sources of our medicines, provide commercial fisheries, and create tourism and recreation opportunities.

Protecting endangered species and their habitats makes sense no matter your political party. Fortunately, Congressmen Dicks (D-WA), Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Thompson (D-CA), and Hanabusa (D-HI) have cosponsored a bipartisan amendment to strike the Extinction Rider from the 2012 House Interior appropriations bill. When this amendment was first introduced in the full Appropriations Committee, three Republican Congressmen voted in favor of it. Congressmen Frank R. Wolf (R-VA), Rodney P. Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), and Charles W. Dent (R-PA) all voted to protect endangered species.

Protecting endangered species should once again be a bipartisan priority. Putting the laws that protect species at risk puts all of us at risk. You can help save species by contacting your House Representative and your Senators today. Please tell them that you oppose misguided policy riders that harm endangered species.

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