Eyes on Washington week ending 07.21.17

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The Endangered Species Act

On Wednesday, July 19th, Congress held two legislative hearings on six separate bills that would undermine the Endangered Species Act and the species that benefit from its protections.

Since it was enacted in 1973, the Endangered Species Act has saved more than 99 percent of listed species from extinction. But opponents of the ESA are determined to undermine certain critical aspects of the Act including science-based decision-making and citizen engagement.

Of great concern is HR 2603 which will remove ESA protections for all non-native species, that includes lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, snow leopards, clouded leopards and all other Asian, African, and South American wildcats, within the United States, without any scientific consideration.

Additionally, two bills under consideration during the hearings: HR 424 and S 1514 are designed to block ESA protections for gray wolves in Wyoming and the Great Lakes region and will prohibit future judicial review of the wolf’s delisting.

HR 1274 will topple the ESA’s science-based listing process entirely, by allowing any state, local or tribal information—regardless of whether it is based in science—to be used to determine whether a species is deserving of protection.

More devastating changes to the Act is HR 717 that calls for cost to be a determining factor in whether our nation’s most imperiled species deserve protection.

Furthermore, the same bill will weaken citizen engagement by removing the citizen petition process for listing species; by impeding upon citizens’ ability to obtain counsel and challenge illegal government actions under the law. Likewise, HR 3131 is drafted to undercut citizen participation and enforcement of the ESA.

“The damage that could result to our life sustaining ecological systems and to our wild fauna and flora if the pending amendments to the ESA are implemented will be reprehensible and irreversible. Our mission to protect and defend all native and non-native wildcats will not be undermined,” said Lisa Ann Salamat, CEO, WildCat Conservation Legal Aid Society.

Join our call to action to protect and defend the ESA! Tell Congress to protect the ESA not destroy it!
Contact the U.S. House of Representatives at (www.house.gov) and U.S. Senate at (www.senate.gov)

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Environmentalists along the U.S.-Mexico border are gearing up for a fight

The Los Angeles Times reported last week on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers use a drilling rig to extract soil samples at the Rio Grande Valley refuge to prepare for the possibility of constructing three miles of concrete levee wall and fence, according to a federal Homeland Security official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal planning for the wall. There is no money in the current federal budget for wall construction on the site. But federal engineers are preparing on the basis that Congress could approve funding for the 2018 budget year, the official said.

The 2,088-acre refuge about 10 miles southeast of McAllen in the southern tip of Texas was created by the federal government in 1943 for the protection of migratory birds and is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Straddling a bend in the Rio Grande, it is home to the endangered ocelot, as well as jaguarundi, coyote, bobcats, armadillos and 400 bird species, making it one of the top birding destinations in the world.

The proposed barrier there, first reported by the Texas Observer, would cut off the refuge from its visitor’s center and the rest of the country. Environmental advocates say that could have a devastating effect on the animals who live in or roam the refuge and to the residents of one of Texas’ poorest regions who depend on the tourism it draws.

“This is insane,” said Scott Nicol, co-chairman of the Borderlands Team for the Sierra Club. “This is the crown jewel of the Rio Grande Valley wildlife refuge system, with one of the highest rates of biodiversity in the U.S. If it’s walled off, with no public access, it will be left to rot. Ocelots could be pushed over the cliff and into extinction in the United States.”

Estimates for a continuous wall along the southern border have ranged from $12 billion to $20 billion. Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One last week that his wall would not have to cover the entire 2,000-mile border because parts were blocked by mountains and rivers. About 600 miles already have walls, fences or other barriers.

Last Monday, U.S. Representative, Filemon Vela, a Democrat from Brownsville who represents the area of the border including Santa Ana, said he requested a briefing about the wall from Customs and Border Protection officials. “Clearly, it’s all being done in secret and it’s not transparent at all,” he said. “I can tell you we’re going to fight like hell to stop it.” “These refuges are national treasures and sacred places, and we have to do everything we can to stop the Trump administration from putting this wall into place.”

Environmentalists are especially worried that a barrier along the levees would put animals in danger by trapping them during floods. “Essentially, you’re creating an impassable barrier, so wildlife cannot get to the river or away from the river,” said Jim Chapman, vice president of the Friends of the Wildlife Corridor, a nonprofit group that advocates for the valley’s native habitat.

In 2010, the Santa Ana refuge was flooded by high waters that resulted from Hurricane Alex. Many plants and animals did not survive, and environmental advocates say the impact would only be more devastating if a border wall was in place. “Santa Ana was underwater for four months,” Nicol said. “A terrestrial animal can’t tread water for four months.”

A wall would also have a negative economic effect across the region, opponents say.

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Lawsuit Challenges Massive U.S. Export of Wild Animal Pelts for International Fur Trade

The Center for Biological Diversity filed a suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last week over its program allowing the export of tens of thousands of wild animals trapped and killed for the international fur trade. The Service’s program covers five “furbearing” species, including bobcats, river otters, wolves, lynx and brown bears, representing the deaths of about 80,000 individual animals annually in recent years.

The international fur market has boomed in recent years, largely driven by demand in China, Russia and Europe, and resulted in increased killing and export of furbearing animals from the United States. Pelt prices for bobcats, wild cats sought after for their beautiful gray-brown coats, rose from around $85 in 2000 to a high of nearly $590 in 2013. The number of bobcat pelts exported from the United States roughly quadrupled during this time, peaking at a high of 65,000 skins exported commercially in 2013.

The lawsuit targets the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to fully consider all the environmental effects of its furbearer-export program, including at the state and local levels where wildlife impacts are most significant. Ultimately the suit seeks to improve in the U.S. export program and reduce the number of animals killed and exported for their fur.

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Animal Legal Defense Fund Sues USDA for Denying Tony the Tiger is an “Individual” Protected by FOIA

On July 11th, the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for refusing to recognize a captive tiger as an “individual” whose physical safety is at risk and refusing to expedite the organization’s public records request.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund is seeking records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) related to the health and well-being of Tony the Tiger, who has been confined at the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete for 16 years.

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