PRESS RELEASE

Flaky GOP Bill Forfeits Most Federal Wildlife Protections

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For Immediate Release: Jul 16, 2018
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Flaky GOP Bill Forfeits Most Federal Wildlife Protections

Senate Plan Would Put States in Charge of ESA and National Park & Refuge Wildlife

Washington, DC — A discussion draft unveiled by a leading Republican would gut nearly every federal safeguard for wildlife, including those in national parks, refuges and other federal lands, according to an analysis released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). While the bill’s principal target is the Endangered Species Act (ESA), it goes much farther than its author describes.

This bill draft is noteworthy because its author is U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), chair of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, and carries support from the Western Governors Association. Rather than actual legislation, Barrasso only introduced a discussion draft, perhaps in recognition that, even beyond its ESA provisions, it features highly questionable ideas, such as –

  • Declaring all federal wildlife management authority in parks, refuges and other federal lands void, giving states “primary authority…to manage wildlife” even on federal preserves;
  • Giving states a presumptive veto on any federal land acquisition within a state; and
  • Using foreign lands as habitat for U.S. threatened and endangered species.

“This approach could transform federal refuges and preserves into state-run game farms,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing to controversial Interior Department plans to open national preserves in Alaska to killing bear cubs and wolf pups in their dens to accommodate state wishes. “Conservation is at such a low ebb in this country that ideas like turning tracts in Central America into Florida panther plantations are floated as alternatives to enforcing the Endangered Species Act.”

Most of the draft is devoted to weakening administration of the ESA by, among other provisions –

  • Giving states the primary role for overseeing species protection, using “recovery teams” that could meet in secret and use information not publicly available;
  • Skewing “best available science” standards by stipulating that “greater weight” must be given to information submitted by states and tribes than peer-reviewed science; and
  • Allowing states to block over introduction of experimental populations, an approach that would have enabled Wyoming to prevent the reintroduction of the grey wolf to Yellowstone.

“By relying on unenforceable, voluntary conservation agreements, this draft embodies faith-based recovery for species in jeopardy,” said Kyla PEER Science Policy Director Bennett, noting one provision that would have U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service employees rated on their cooperation with “farming, ranching, home building” interests and “industry trade groups” as well as “sportsmen,” and state and local governments. “This bill draft reads like a special interest wish list instead of a serious piece of legislation.”

Barrasso’s plan is also at odds with a package of bills just introduced by the House Republican Western Caucus. The lack of progress and consensus on this issue so late in a legislative session, just weeks before midterm elections that very well could shift partisan control in one or both houses, suggests the opportunity for a GOP revamp of the ESA likely has passed.

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Read the PEER analysis

See the Barrasso discussion draft

Compare the House package