GOP wildlife bills draw opposition

Posted: November 6, 2017 at 2:45 a.m.

The congressman who said he “would love to invalidate” the Endangered Species Act is advancing bills that Democrats and conservationists argue would whittle away the law’s ability to save wildlife from extinction.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah and chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, recently shepherded five bills out of committee. Many Republicans on the panel say the proposals are necessary changes that would modernize the 1973 law.

One measure would force the federal government to consider the economic impact of saving a species rather than make a purely scientific call. Another would require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which administers the act along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to defer to data collected by states as the “best scientific and commercial data available.”

Under a third proposal, citizens and conservation groups would be stripped of a powerful tool that allows them to file court claims against the government when they believe its protections fall short. Among other actions, the remaining bills would remove protections for gray wolves in Midwestern states and block courts from ruling on the validity of the government’s decisions.

The legislation is setting up a clash over a law that forms the foundation of American wildlife protection and has been copied around the world.

“This will be a battle royal,” said Bob Dreher, vice president for conservation programs at Defenders of Wildlife, a nonprofit group in Washington, D.C. “You’re going to see a strong, strong movement opposing cuts to the [Endangered Species Act]. I don’t want to sound overly confident or cocky that we’re going to defeat this. It’s going to be the fight of my conservation career.”

Unlike in earlier GOP attempts to weaken the law, Republicans control both chambers of Congress and the White House.

Bishop, who declined requests to comment, exuded confidence about the bills’ prospects in July. “Hopefully, working with our colleagues in the Senate and the administration, we can lay a foundation for [Endangered Species Act] reform that will do us well,” he said.

All of the measures are awaiting consideration by the full House.