Wildlife and Endangered Species

People and wildlife can coexist, and the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is proving it. Successes like the recovery and delisting of the bald eagle, American alligator, and gray whale, along with the unprecedented state-federal partnership to conserve the greater sage-grouse, show that the law can be both flexible and effective. Further, Americans want to see species conservation efforts succeed: recent polling shows that 90% of voters support the ESA. Unfortunately, the Trump administration and its allies in Congress are dead set on undermining the ESA and driving American wildlife to extinction. Trump's budget proposal would slash funding for species conservation, and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s recent decision to weaken the greater sage-grouse's habitat will endanger not just the bird, but the entire sagebrush steppe ecosystem.

Committee Democrats

    Ranking Member
  • Jared  Huffman
    California 2nd District
  • Grace Napolitano
    California 32nd District
  • Jim Costa
    California 16th District
  • Don Beyer
    Virginia 8th District
  • Nanette  Barragán
    California 44th District
  • Jimmy Gomez
    California 34th District
  • Madeleine Bordallo
  • Gregorio Sablan
    Northern Mariana Islands
  • Raúl M. Grijalva
    Arizona 3rd District

Preventing Extinction: A Strong Endangered Species Act

Passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority and signed into law in 1973, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is one of our bedrock conservation laws. Recently, though, it has come under fierce attack from special interests and Congressional Republicans who have wrongly blamed the Act for everything from drought, to flood, to wildfire. The ESA is at greater risk now than it has been at any time during the last 20 years.

The ESA is at the heart of our conservation efforts, and the law is working:

  • For the past four decades, hundreds of species have been listed — currently, about 1,400 domestic species are on the list — less than 10 have been found to be extinct.
  • It has a 99% success rate in preventing extinction.
  • The U.S. economy has tripled in size - from just over $5 trillion to more than $16 trillion in GDP – over the same period. Clearly, allegations that the ESA is hindering economic development are false.
  • Most species are recovering at the rate that was predicted in the plans. Just because species are slow to recover does not mean the ESA is broken. When considering that we have destroyed 99% of our tallgrass prairies, 95% of our old growth forests, and half of our wetlands, it becomes easy to see that restoring ecosystems and the plants, animals, and fish that depend on them is no easy task.

People and wildlife can coexist, and the ESA is proving it. Successes like the recovery and delisting of the bald eagle, American alligator, and gray whale, along with the unprecedented state-federal partnership to conserve the greater sage-grouse, show that the law can be both flexible and effective. Further, Americans want to see species conservation efforts succeed: recent polling shows that 90% of voters support the ESA.

Sadly, legislation introduced and passed by House Republicans is driving the extinction of American wildlife one species at a time. We are currently fighting back against bills and amendments stripping, precluding or weakening ESA protections for the gray wolf, king salmon, greater sage-grouse and many other species. But attacks on the ESA do not stop there. Committee Republicans have also introduced and passed legislation in the last two Congresses that would undermine the science-based process for listing and delisting species, divert already scarce resources away from species protection and recovery, and bar the courthouse doors to citizens and groups who value species protection.

If the Endangered Species Act were to be significantly weakened, it could have a ripple effect across our public lands, our national parks and our nation. The ESA is America’s safety net for nature: ensuring that we preserve our natural heritage and leave our landscapes in better shape than we found them for our children and theirs. Natural Resources Committee Democrats are fighting to keep the ESA strong.

Fighting Natural Resources Trafficking and Invasive Species

Ranking Member Grijalva supports the Fish and Wildlife Service anti-ivory trafficking regulation announced June 2, 2016. Unfortunately, Republicans are already trying to repeal it.

Illegal trafficking in stolen natural resources – from timber, to shark fins, to elephant ivory – is decimating some of the world’s most productive ecosystems and iconic wildlife. Numerous sources have also linked wildlife poaching and trafficking to organized crime, terrorism, and slavery. This not only undermines international conservation efforts being supported with U.S. taxpayer dollars, but also compromises national security. Unfortunately, Natural Resources Committee Republicans do not seem to care.

Requests by Committee Democrats for hearings to investigate the global poaching and trafficking crisis - and to advance legislation to address it – have been denied. As if their indifference was not bad enough, Republicans have used their majority to push policies that would make the situation worse.

In the 112th and 113th Congresses, Committee Republicans mounted a full-on assault of the Lacey Act: our most important law for preventing the illegal import and interstate trade of plant, animal, and fish products. They supported legislation that would eliminate requirements to document the origin of timber imports and strip conservation law enforcement officers of their ability to make arrests, serve warrants, and even carry firearms. Fortunately, Congressional Democrats were able to expose these efforts for what they were – an attempt to let corporate criminals off the hook – and prevented bad legislation from passing the House.

Republicans did not stop there, however, and continue trying to target African elephants and the Obama administration’s efforts to protect them. Poachers are killing elephants at the rate of more than 25,000 each year to turn their tusks into trinkets for sale in China, Thailand, and yes, the United States. President Obama took decisive action to close loopholes in the law and end the commercialization of ivory in the United States because tusk smugglers are passing off ivory from freshly killed elephants as antique, and all trade is contributing to the poaching crisis. But House Republicans - backed by the gun lobby, a few out-of-touch collectors, and wealthy big game hunters who go on safari not to view elephants, lions, and rhinos, but to kill them - have launched a campaign to block the new rules and allow the ivory trade to continue. They are backing Republican legislation, H.R. 2603, that would overturn the domestic ivory trade ban and make the United States a hub for trafficking in threatened and endangered wildlife.

In addition to combating the illegal wildlife trade, the Lacey Act is our most important tool for stopping the introduction and spread of invasive species of fish, wildlife, and plants that wreak havoc on our native ecosystems and cause billions of dollars of economic damage. Unfortunately, Committee Republicans have ignored Democratic legislation that would help solve this massive economic and environmental problem and have instead focused on bills and hearings designed to reduce our ability to stop the spread of biological invasions.

National Wildlife Refuges: America's Insurance Policy for Nature

From the Oregon coast to the Florida Keys; Mississippi delta to Dakota prairie; our National Wildlife Refuges protect for our benefit some of the last, best examples of true American landscapes. Since President Theodore Roosevelt created a federal bird refuge on Pelican Island, Florida in 1903, the National Wildlife Refuge System has grown into something unique among public lands: a bank of biodiversity that insures against losses from disaster and development by preserving and restoring pieces of our major ecosystems. As hunters, hikers, anglers, and amblers we enjoy the interest this bank yields in the form of abundant fish and wildlife.

The refuge system has historically drawn broad bipartisan support in Congress, as well as from the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement (CARE), a coalition of sporting and conservation groups that includes everyone from the National Audubon Society to the National Rifle Association. Last year, however, Natural Resources Committee Republicans championed two bills which would have required an act of Congress to authorize any addition of land to the National Wildlife Refuge System.

In a functioning Congress, legislation like this would never see the light of day regardless of which political party held power. In fact, the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Improvement Act of 1997 passed a Republican-controlled Senate on a voice vote and a Republican-controlled House on a vote of 407 to 1. This law reaffirmed the need for science-based expansion of the Refuge System, as well as the importance of allowing the Fish and Wildlife Service to act quickly to preserve vital natural ecosystems before they disappear and to do so without additional Congressional authorization.

Unfortunately, a new breed of Tea Party Republican has crippled Congress and has promoted these bills to stop the expansion or designation of National Wildlife Refuges, thereby eliminating our ability to plan for the future of wildlife habitat conservation. The fact that many of these members hail from rural districts that depend on the economic benefits of Refuges – 35,000 jobs and $2.4 billion in regional sales according to the aptly titled Banking on Nature report released in 2013 - adds painful irony to this puzzling story.

Every dollar invested in a refuge generates nearly five dollars for local economies. The refuge system also provides valuable ecosystem services like clean water, flood control, and carbon storage. A 2011 study commissioned by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation valued those services at more than $32 billion, or nearly $3,000 per acre per year. Rather than promote these achievements, recent Republican policies have sought to undermine them. According to former National Wildlife Refuge Chief Jim Kurth, sequestration cut $33 million from the Refuge System budget in fiscal year 2013 alone. The Trump budget would go even further, limiting visor services, education programs, and access for hunters and anglers.

Many of our refuges may not match the majesty of Yellowstone or rival the grandeur of Glacier, but they are essential to the communities that have built up the industry, infrastructure, and their economies around them. During the Republican-led government shutdown, tens of thousands of Americans were locked out of their favorite hunting and fishing spots during the height of the fall season, hammering local communities and draining needed resources from small businesses that depend on sportsmen for their livelihoods.

As they have done with so many traditionally non-controversial, bipartisan issues, House Republicans have made our Refuges a political punching bag, spinning up tales of Federal land grabs and fiscal mismanagement. But we know better. Refuges preserve and restore key pieces of our natural heritage, fuel local economies, and provide unparalleled opportunities for outdoor recreation. Congress should focus on making it easier, not harder, for Americans to enjoy these benefits.

Expanding Opportunities for Hunting, Fishing, and Outdoor Recreation

While Democratic Committee members have been busy fighting for additional funding for public lands, clean water, and permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), Committee Republicans have spent their time trying to block efforts to protect streams and wetlands, and ramming through a fisheries management bill that would leave fewer fish in the water for saltwater anglers. This year’s version of the so-called “sportsmen’s bill” - a puzzling package of ideologically driven provisions that has nothing to do with hunting or fishing – omits key sporting community priorities like reauthorization of LWCF, but includes huge favors for the National Rifle Association (NRA) like easing restrictions on purchasing silencers and carrying assault weapons across state lines. 

Instead of trying to pass off favors for special interests as legislation that benefits outdoor enthusiasts, Congress should pass a bill that creates new opportunities for hunters, anglers, hikers, paddlers, and wildlife watchers. Natural Resources Committee Democrats are committed to supporting such a bill.

For more information on LWCF, visit the Federal Lands page.

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