Our new Republican-controlled federal government (Congress, the president, and soon, the Supreme Court) is daily advancing the anti-environmental agenda promised in the last election (one that was overwhelmingly rejected by Boulder County voters). It is hard to come to grips with the almost daily dose of bad nominations, executive orders and legislative proposals coming out of Washington, but I urge you to pay attention to what the new Congress and administration are considering with respect to threatened and endangered animal and plant species.

In 1973, Congress (with bipartisan support) passed the Endangered Species Act (ESA). President Nixon, a Republican, signed the act into law. The ESA gives the federal government the ability to list any plant or animal species as threatened or endangered. Once listed, federal agencies enact restrictions and regulations (both on public and private groups) to try to protect the species from further decline while investing money into programs to try to restore its population. The ESA is a watershed statute with a history of success, from saving the bald eagle to easing the grizzly bear back from the brink, and studies have quantified its effectiveness at preventing some 1,600 species from disappearing.

President Trump’s nominee for interior secretary, Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) will be responsible for leading the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in developing policies in line with the ESA — a law that he has a history of seeking to dismantle. During his short time in Congress, he has championed expanded oil and gas development on public lands, and moved to exempt agribusiness from ESA regulation. Most disturbingly, he has led efforts on the federal level to take away protections for some of our majestic species, including wolves and lynx, and voted to block efforts that would have limited the black market ivory trade.

The previous Republican-controlled Congress introduced over 250 amendments, bills, and riders aimed at stripping away provisions of the ESA. With the GOP now firmly in control of both the House and Senate, it is likely these efforts will be renewed in earnest, and have a much better chance of succeeding, now that President Obama is no longer around to veto such legislation. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, has said he “would love to invalidate” the law. Other Republican lawmakers would like to limit logging restrictions under the act, or force one species off the list for every species added to the list. In addition, all of the U.S.’s major environmental statutes have clauses that allow private citizens to take the government to court if they don’t believe the law is being properly enforced. Most disturbing for the efficacy of the ESA are Republican proposals to get rid of the right of private citizens to seek enforcement of the ESA in the courts. If enacted, these proposals would mean no action would be taken under the ESA unless initiated by the Trump administration, an unlikely prospect. There are also more specific bills and amendments that focus on certain species like the gray wolf, the lesser prairie chicken, and northern long-eared bat, seeking to either keep these species off the ESA list, or to prevent the ESA from being enforced if they’re already listed.

The only hope for saving the ESA lies with the ability of Democrats in the U.S. Senate to filibuster. Please let Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) know that you expect him to oppose any effort by Republicans in Congress to weaken or invalidate the ESA.

Martin Gerra lives in Boulder.

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