Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Endangered Species Act Defenders Flood the Hill

Last week, the Endangered Species Coalition and other conservation organizations brought a team of experts to Washington, D.C. to impress upon Members of Congress the importance of protecting the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

ESC Executive Director Leda Huta talks with Major General Michael Lehnert
In a series of meetings on Capitol Hill, representatives of the scientific, ranching, military and fishing communities educated legislators of the unique value of the Act. 

Meetings with Members of both Houses of Congress and both parties were held to defend the Endangered Species Act at a time of unprecedented threat.

Tara Thornton, ESC's Program Director traveled from Maine to meet with decision makers and help organize the group. 
"They told their stories and gave first hand accounts of why the ESA is critical for their livelihoods, land and water, communities, families, health and the nation.  When Brett Baker, a five generation farmer explained why regulating pesticides wouldn't hurt his farm or his business and Major General Michael Lehnert told Members of Congress that a country worth defending was a country worth preserving, decision makers took notice.  And this is just a sampling of Americans that support the Endangered Species Act!", Tara Thornton, ESC Program Director.
These meetings were crucial in our fight to save the Endangered Species Act and the species it safeguards.  The political environment in Washington is increasingly hostile to conservation and sound stewardship. Hearing from respected members of these important communities is one of the ways elected officials make decisions about the future of the Act and our nation's disappearing wildlife.

You can help too. If you have not already, please join the ESC Activist Network. We'll keep you updated on ways you can speak out for wildlife and wild places in your community.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

America supports saving species

The first five months of the 112th Congress might leave the unengaged observer with the impression that the streets and sidewalks of America are teaming with a desire to roll back protections for wildlife and their habitat. The Continuing Resolution with its legislative de-listing of N. Rockies gray wolves set the tone for what is rapidly becoming a full scale assault on the Endangered Species Act.

Last week, Senators Inhofe (R-OK) and Cornyn (R-TX) introduced a pair of what would in any other Congress be radical amendments.  In an unusually blatant kowtowing to big money special interests, the pair seeks to exclude the dunes sagebrush lizard and lesser prairie chicken from ever receiving federal ESA protections. This attempt to micromanage ESA isn't based on some science or biological facts known only to them and their staffs, it's pure politics.

Representative Steve Pearce (R-NM) has been even more creative in his demonization of wildlife and the laws that safeguard them. Recently, the Congressman alleged that somehow the protection of the habitat of the endangered desert pupfish was interfering with the ability of U.S. Border Patrol agents' ability to do their job. The Department of Homeland Security quickly responded, saying no such hindrance existed and that "agents are able to effectively detect and apprehend individuals in that area,".  Representative Pearce has also taken aim at protections for Mexican spotted owls, the Mexican wolf, gila trout, bighorn sheep, and the dunes sagebrush lizard.

None of this, however, is what the American public asked for. A recent poll commissioned by the Endangered Species Coalition found broad support for the Act (84%) and a strong preference that decisions about wildlife management and which animals need protection be made by scientists, not politicians (92%).

This is not stopping the efforts in Congress to weaken the Act and the special interest groups funded by Big Oil and others that seek to roll back proven regulatory protections are aggressively pushing for even more attacks. The Safari Club International has been in Washington over the course of several months stalking the halls of Congress advocating for a weakening of the Endangered Species Act.  Among the "experts" in town representing the Safari Club, were former NBA star Karl Malone, who "loves shooting rare wild animals for sport", and was a vocal advocate against protections for endangered wolves.

Next week, we'll answer them. The ESC and other conservation groups will be bringing farmers, business leaders, scientists, ranchers and even a retired Marine Corps Major General to Washington to educate lawmakers about the importance of the Endangered Species Act.

Bringing respected members of these communities to speak to elected officials about the economic and societal benefits of saving species is one of the most effective ways of educating Members of Congress and the time to do so has never been more pressing.

But, we need your help to make this happen. Please make an emergency contribution today to help us bring these voices to Washington. Your support is 100% tax-deductible, 100% secure and 100% necessary to save the Endangered Species Act.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

World Oceans Day 2011: Take action for Arctic species

Created in 1992 and officially recognized by the United Nations in 2008, June 8th is designated as World Oceans Day.

Credit NOAA/Igor Lavrenov
On last year's World Oceans Day, our nation was collectively engaged in a stunned response to its worst environmental catastrophe to date--the Deepwater Horizon blowout and oil spill.  We now know that thousands of sea birds, hundreds of sea turtles and scores of marine mammals were found dead as a direct result of the oil spill. Other estimates have put that number far higher.

In the year that has followed, the totality of the long term consequences of the spill on marine species have become more clear. A recent paper in the journal BioScience found that marine species facing threats from the  Gulf oil spill far exceed those under legal protection in the United States.

The research found that 53 species listed by the IUCN Red List as critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable have distribution including the spill zone. Of those 53, just 14 currently receive legal protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, or the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Included in the list of unprotected species are 16 species of shark (the enormous whale shark among them), 8 corals and the western stock of Atlantic bluefin tuna. The bluefin faced substantial risks due to overfishing prior to the spill, having seen their numbers plummet drastically since the early 1970's.  Researchers using satellite data recently estimated that the spill killed more than 20 percent of the juvenile Atlantic bluefin in the Gulf, likely impacting their ability to sustain the already low population levels. NOAA recently opted not to list the species but will revisit the decision by 2013 following further study.

The horrific environmental as well as economic consequences of the Deepwater Horizon spill have regrettably not moderated the oil industry in its pursuit of crude buried deep beneath some of the planet's most treacherous and icy seas.

Shell Oil is seeking permission from the Department of Interior to move forward with an aggressive and danger-fraught plan to drill in Alaska's Chukchi Sea, home to walrus, threatened polar bears, and endangered fin and humpback whales. 

Drilling in this Arctic environment would be challenging  at best, with its extreme cold, hurricane strength winds and icebergs as tall as three-story buildings.  Responding to a spill would appear to be nearly impossible. 

According to Thad Allen, the Coast Guard Admiral who led the response to the Deepwater Horizon spill, the country is not prepared to deal with an Arctic spill.  Describing the Arctic as a "very, very difficult place to operate," Allen cautioned against proceeding without caution. Shell has yet to lay out a viable spill response plan nor is the technology in place to deal with an Arctic spill. 

Additionally, there's a lack of basic scientific information about the Arctic to fully estimate the potential impacts of drilling. Before the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) considers any drilling in the Arctic Ocean, more environmental analysis must be completed, including the impacts from a potential blowout oil spill during the proposed drilling.

The Department of Interior is accepting comments regarding Shell's proposal through July 11th. Please take action for Arctic Ocean species today by asking Secretary Salazar to and BOEMRE to delay decisions about Arctic drilling until a plan is in place to gather basic essential information and there is proven and viable spill response plans and technology to clean up a spill in the Arctic’s unique conditions.