Just a day after 200 countries at the Convention on Biological Diversity agreed to stem biodiversity loss by protecting 30% of the planet’s land and oceans by 2030, the U.S. Congress released a draft omnibus spending bill that paints a grim picture for endangered species.
Following the release of the draft, Defenders of Wildlife President and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark issued the following statement:
“The last-minute backroom deal that produced this bill will have devastating, irrevocable, extinction-level impacts on the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale and continues to ignore the ever-worsening plight of the greater sage-grouse. The anemic funding levels for endangered species conservation and recovery efforts will affect countless other imperiled species as well. This is a shameful outcome and political dealing at its absolute worst. We are extremely disappointed that congressional leaders are willing to cut this deal based on bad science and bad policy at a time when species on the brink need help the most.”
The Maine delegation successfully pushed for a provision or right whale “rider” in the spending bill, that will nullify a federal judge’s ruling earlier this year in litigation brought by Defenders and others that the federal government hasn’t complied with the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act and must do more. The rider deems the government’s unlawful action in compliance with both statutes. Defenders of Wildlife and many other groups urged lawmakers to leave the harmful language out of the omnibus. The groups sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and other congressional leaders saying that the provision would not only doom the right whale to extinction but it will set a terrible precedent by undermining active federal litigation and overriding science-based decision-making under our nation’s bedrock wildlife protection laws.
The North Atlantic right whale is approaching extinction, with only 340 surviving animals and 70 breeding females in 2021. Entanglements in the ropes of trap/pot gear in the American lobster/Jonah crab fishery in the Northeast continue to kill an average of four right whales a year, six times higher than biologically sustainable rates. Even non-lethal entanglements cause infections, interfere with feeding, and burn up energy dragging around heavy gear, impairing female right whales’ ability to reproduce.
The bill also included another rider that prevents the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from considering the greater sage-grouse for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Interior and Environment Appropriations bills have included this unrelated and indefensible rider at the behest of big agriculture and energy industries since 2014.
The greater sage-grouse is an imperiled western bird and the charismatic ambassador for the Sagebrush Sea. The U.S. Geological Survey reported in April that greater sage-grouse populations have declined 80% rangewide since 1965 and nearly 40% since 2002. The survey also predicted only a 50% chance that most breeding grounds, called leks, will be productive in about 60 years from now if current conditions persist.