Wednesday, February 25, 2009

How the Omnibus helps endangered species

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected today to debate an omnibus bill that sets the federal government’s budget for the rest of the fiscal year. The bill has some good news for endangered species.

First, it includes budget increases for many endangered species programs, which have been ailing for years. For the main Fish and Wildlife Service programs, which include listing and critical habitat designation; consultations; candidate protections; and recovery efforts, there is an increase of almost $7.5 million – or approximately five percent. Within the National Marine Fisheries Services, marine mammal protections gained $1.5 million (or almost four percent). We had been advocating for significantly larger increases to help combat staffing shortages and the growing waiting list of candidates in need of protection, but the increases will be helpful and are appreciated. Regrettably, there were decreases for funding for sea turtles (well below even what President Bush’s budget had recommended) and the Bureau of Land Management’s threatened and endangered species program – despite the growing pressure that will be coming with more energy development of all types. More broadly, there is also help for developing a national strategy to protect wildlife and natural resources from the effects of global warming.

The bill also provides hope for endangered species in another big way. Text in the bill would grant Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and the yet to be confirmed Secretary of Commerce 60 days to review and possibly repeal the Bush Administration’s last minute regulations that undermined endangered species protections. Secretary Salazar could also repeal or amend the special rule put into place that impacts polar bear protections.

We’ve been working hard along with our member groups to undo these bad rules and it is great to see this included in the bill. However, there is still work to do. Some lawmakers have called this language a “backdoor” attempt to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. They are wrong; the repeal would actually just return us to the status quo of the last 20 years. But that may not prevent them from trying to offer amendments that would remove the language. If they do attack these provisions, we’ll need your help. Stay tuned and we’ll let you know more as this develops.

p.s. other good news came today with expansion of critical habitat for the Canada lynx, which had its original designation slashed by political interference from a Bush Administration appointee.

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