Warnings Come Amidst Endangered Species Day Celebrations

WASHINGTON, DC, May 20, 2011 (ENS) – Today, on Endangered Species Day in the United States, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be hosting events in the communities that host field and regional offices, offering unique programs to visitors on endangered species conservation. But some environmental groups warn that Congress weakened the Endangered Species Act this spring by removing Rocky Mountain wolves from protection – the first time Congress has directly interevened in the endangered species process – and could remove other species in the future.

Started by a resolution of the U.S. Senate in 2006, 33 years after the Endangered Species Act was enacted, Endangered Species Day is observed each year on the third Friday in May.

This year, the Fish and Wildlife Service will launch a partnership with Go Ape USA to support the Great Ape Conservation Fund. The partnership will open with the unveiling of educational boards at the Go Ape treetop adventure course in Rockville, Maryland. Go Ape will donate $5 from every ticket to the Great Ape Conservation Fund for each booking made using the code “GR8APE” for the days of May 20-22.

“During the past 11 years, the Great Ape Conservation Fund has supported activities and research related to infectious diseases, law enforcement, conservation education and safeguarded habitats for gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans, and gibbons,” said Rowan Gould, acting director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Partnerships like the one with Go Ape are vital to enable us to continue our mission of helping these great animals beat the odds of extinction.

American alligator in Florida’s Viera Wetlands, April 2009. (Photo by Rynette)

There are no ape species that are native to the wild in the United States. But federal wildlife officials say the Endangered Species Act is working for American species – pointing to the bald eagle, brown pelican, American alligator and Maguire daisy as species that were on the brink of extinction, but have successfully rebounded due to protections provided by the act.

The Service says several listed species that are showing significant progress towards recovery include the wood stork, Kirtland’s warbler, Lake Erie water snake, Okaloosa darter, black-footed ferret and Louisiana black bear.

“Endangered Species Day celebrates America’s natural heritage and our country’s successful efforts to protect imperiled species,” said Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition, a national network of citizens groups. “As Americans, we can be proud that we have one of the strongest endangered species programs in the world. Americans have established a legacy of protecting endangered species for our children and grandchildren.”

But not all environmental groups are so pleased with the state of endangered species conservation in the United States.

Wolf at Idaho’s Wolf Education and Research Center, March 2011 (Photo by David Woody)

The Sierra Club warns that the Endangered Species Act is under attack in Congress.

In a move away from science-based decision making, Congress in April approved a resolution to fund the federal government for the rest of fiscal year 2011 with a rider removing wolves in Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Utah from the federal endangered species list.

The measure returns control of wolf management to the states. It is the first time an act of Congress has removed a species from the list.

The Sierra Club warned today, “Now Congress is primed and ready to dismantle the Endangered Species Act with new fervor.”

Fran Hunt, director of the Sierra Club’s Resilient Habitats campaign,” said, “Today our endangered wildlife are facing greater threats than ever before – from destructive energy development, to unsustainable logging, to a rapidly changing climate. Rising temperatures are affecting the habitats, migration routes, and food sources our wildlife need. It is our job to help wildlife adapt.”

“Yet Congress is already making moves to further undermine the Endangered Species Act, holding hearings and introducing legislation to take wildlife management decisions out of the hands of scientists,” said Hunt. “These moves threaten the progress that we are celebrating today in bringing keystone animals back from the brink of extinction.”

Most Congressional Republicans, and a few Democrats, are championing the weakening of the Endangered Species Act because they believe it restricts the activities of businesses.

“The original purpose of the ESA has been perverted to do the bidding of activist environmentalists. This is the first step to ensuring these groups no longer misuse the ESA to permanently protect a species regardless of its recovery,” said Congressman Raul Labrador, and Idaho Republican on May 4 when the Fish and Wildlife Service removed the Rocky Mountain wolves from the endangered species list.

“The recovery of the gray wolf took place several years ago and since that recovery many Idahoan ranches and outfitting businesses have suffered through the killing of livestock and prime hunting herds by these apex predators,” said Labrador. “We must remain vigilant in the future to other overbearing federal restrictions on state sovereignty. This is a great example of a crisis that could have and should have been handled by the state itself and not the federal government.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2011. All rights reserved.