By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block
Last year, the Trump administration finalized regulations that gutted the Endangered Species Act, making it harder to grant and maintain federal protections for species that are fighting for survival. Today, the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee voted to reverse those dangerous changes by approving the Protect America’s Wildlife and Fish in Need of Conservation Act (the PAW and FIN Conservation Act), H.R. 4348.
The measure would nullify regulations that strip threatened species of vital safeguards, create hurdles to list species threatened by climate change, weaken protection of critical habitat, and make it easier for federal agencies to ignore the impact of government actions on listed species, including African lions, grizzly bears and elephants. The regulations, finalized last August, also directed regulators to assess economic impacts when making decisions about whether species should be listed, tipping the scales against animals who happen to live in areas targeted by business operations like mining, oil drilling or development.
These are unacceptable changes, especially at a time when animals across the globe face great challenges to their survival due to poaching, habitat loss, the climate crisis and trophy hunting. The ESA has saved more than 99 percent of listed species from going extinct, and now is the time to enhance, not dismantle, it. Soon after they were announced, the rules were challenged in court by the attorneys general of 17 states and by a slew of environmental and animal protection organizations, including the HSUS. We are pleased to see Congress move decisively to throw these dangerous rules out.
The committee also marked up several other important pieces of wildlife conservation legislation today, including bills concerning the establishment of wildlife corridors to address disjointed habitats and the development of integrated national climate change resiliency strategies. These bills include:
The Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act, H.R. 2795, to establish a National Wildlife Corridors Program for federal public lands as well as authorize funding for states, tribes and other entities to pursue comprehensive corridor network projects on non-federal lands to boost biodiversity, protect ecosystems, and help safeguard iconic species like the Florida panther and bighorn sheep.
The Tribal Wildlife Corridors Act, H.R. 5179, to support efforts by Native American tribes to establish a Tribal Wildlife Corridors System on tribal lands.
The Safeguarding America’s Future and Environment (SAFE) Act, H.R. 2748, to require federal agencies to work together and in conjunction with state, tribal and local governments to identify and prioritize specific conservation and management strategies responsive to the challenges of extreme weather and climate change.
Committee members also marked up a bill to establish the Western Riverside County National Wildlife Refuge in California that would provide habitat for 146 species of plants and animals.
We are grateful to House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz. for moving these five bills forward, and to all of the members who voted in favor of them. We look forward to all of them moving soon to debate and vote on the full House floor.
A United Nations report last year warned that one million plant and animal species are on the verge of extinction, with alarming implications for human survival. By passing these bills, we can ensure that our nation is doing its part to help conserve global and American wildlife. But before they go to the House floor for a vote, we need to ensure that all five have a high cosponsor count. Please contact your Representative in Congress today and urge them to cosponsor these important bills.
Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.