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Congress doubles down on the politics of extinction

Photo Credit: USFWS

For Immediate Release – December 20, 2022


Josh Osher, Western Watersheds Project, (406) 830-3099

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a blow to species on both sides of the continent, Congress released the text of omnibus year-end legislation to fund the government that endangers the survival of greater sage-grouse and the North Atlantic right whale. The must-pass annual appropriations legislation retains language that first appeared in the FY2015 appropriations bill to prohibit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) from even considering whether the greater sage grouse warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This year’s bill also now includes a poison-pill rider that mandates a six-year delay to implement necessary measures to prevent the entanglement and death of critically endangered North Atlantic right whale. Estimates suggest that there are fewer than 350 right whales remaining, with fewer that 100 breeding females.

“At a time when most global leaders have agreed to protect 30 percent of the planet’s land and oceans by 2030, manage the remaining 70 percent of the planet to avoid losing key habitats needed to support biodiversity, and ensure that industry discloses biodiversity risks and impacts, Congress is going in completely the opposite direction and potentially consigning both of these iconic species to extinction,” said Josh Osher, Public Policy Director at Western Watersheds Project.

Once numbering 16 million birds, the greater sage grouse population has dwindled to a few hundred thousand. The species continues to decline due to impacts from oil and gas drilling, livestock overgrazing that leads to invasion by flammable weeds, habitat fragmentation, and other human-caused factors. It shares about 60 million acres of sagebrush habitats with a diversity of other native wildlife, and is considered an “umbrella species” that, if protected, would shield scores of other sensitive plants and wildlife from habitat loss and degradation.

“The Endangered Species Act is the most effective tool we have to protect biodiversity and prevent extinction,” remarked Osher. “Riders like these that undermine the ESA and judicial review, are not only a threat to our system of checks and balances, but will embolden future efforts to roll back science-based species protections in the next Congress.”

While the omnibus bill does include some increases in funding for the Dept. of Interior and contains potentially helpful direction to the federal land management agencies, the proposed funding levels still fall far short of what is needed to address the climate and biodiversity crises and prevent future extinctions.

“Once again, Democrats in Congress have not met the moment,” continued Osher. “Generations to come will look back and wonder why their leaders chose politics over science and elevated corporate profits over irreplaceable species.”


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