By Kerry Beheler
June 30, 2017 was an eye-opening day into constituent democracy for me. Gary John Feest and I went to Washington D.C. in a Citizen Lobbying effort to defend the Endangered Species Act. We are grateful to Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf and the Endangered Species Coalition for sponsoring us so we could speak to our U.S. Senators and Congressman for endangered species. We met with Senate and Congress office staffers, but no elected officials.
Background: The Endangered Species Act is under threat. The ESA is a landmark law that has saved hundreds of species from extinction, including the bald eagle and the trumpeter swan in Wisconsin. The ESA is very successful, with 99% of listed species still with us today! The ESA is flexible, and has been continuously upgraded and improved since 1973. It is an extremely popular law, as 90% of voters, regardless of political affiliation, support preventing extinction.
The ESA is the conservation law of last resort. It is triggered only after efforts to protect habitat and species have fallen short. Species are added only when they are in danger of extinction. After listing, the ESA coordinates with non-federal partners. It is mandated that federal, state, local and tribal officials work together to prevent species extinction.
Since 2015, more than 150 legislative proposals in the U.S. House and Senate have been introduced that would erode or destroy the Endangered Species Act.
Proposals include undermining science, prioritizing economic considerations over scientific data, and blocking citizen rights to judicial recourse in listing decisions. The current most damaging proposals include a rewrite of the ESA, so-called “modernization” legislation, or repealing the ESA completely.
We bright-eyed lobbying neophytes went to D.C. to speak our constituent stories from the heart about the ESA. Outcomes are told here:
Congressman Mark Pocan is in his third term for the 2nd District. His aide said he is “a solid” for protecting the ESA as it is now written. He is consistently reliable for protecting the environment and the people. Pocan’s top 3 environmental priorities are the ESA, the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act. In Congress, Pocan is a member of SEEC (Sustainable Energy and Environmental Committee). Thank you Congressman Mark Pocan.
Senior Senator Ron Johnson is in his second term as senator. He has a 0% rating voting for environmental issues. He is a co-signer of the 2016 “War on Wolves” act. His staffer asked us “is there concern in Wisconsin should the ESA be rewritten?”! We asked, if Johnson was presented with a bill to “modernize” the ESA, would he sign onto it? His staffer guaranteed us that such legislation would be “thoroughly reviewed”! We asked, how can we influence Johnson to support the current ESA? The staffer said we need to gather and send WI data in support of endangered species. There is the challenge. Let us rise to meet it. And succeed.
The Bad and Unexpectedly Worse
Junior Senator Tammy Baldwin is in her first term as senator. She is up for re-election in November 2018. She is a cosponsor of the 2016 “War on Wolves” act. This law de-lists Wyoming and western Great Lakes gray wolves from the ESA. This is the FIRST time Congress has EVER stripped protection from an endangered species! Worse yet, this law blocks our citizen rights to judicial recourse in listing, or de-listing, ESA decisions. Which means we, the citizens, cannot challenge our government’s ESA listings in a court of law. What the hell, Senator Baldwin?
We asked, would she protect the ESA as currently written, and oppose attempts to “modernize” it? We were told the ESA is important to her. And her decision on the gray wolf should NOT mislead us into thinking she would not protect the ESA in its current form. Have no doubts constituents!
Well, methinks she does not respect the ESA now. The Great Lakes wolf was re-listed as it did not meet de-listing criteria. To be de-listed, the wolf is required to inhabit a “significant portion of its range”. This has not yet happened. So a federal lawsuit was filed to re-list the wolf. Learning of the lawsuit, our junior senator then writes a law that the wolf WILL be de-listed, and by the way citizens, you can no longer take us to court if you don’t like our decisions.
Our junior senator is also a co-sponsor of very recent June 30, 2017 bipartisan legislation called the ‘‘Hunting Heritage and Environmental Legacy Preservation for Wildlife Act’’ (HELP for Wildlife Act). Her staff could have mentioned that to us, the constituents in her office on behalf of environmental issues, but we heard not a peep. This bill “expands access for sportsmen throughout the U.S. while enhancing provisions to conserve wildlife habitat.” Sounds great, right? Oh wait, provisions of the bill include:
- Target Practice and Marksmanship: facilitates construction and expansion of public target ranges, including on land managed by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
- Delisting Great Lakes and Wyoming Wolves: reissues final 2011 rule in the Western Great Lakes and final 2012 rule in Wyoming to delist the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act. Constructing new target ranges and signing into law de-listing of an endangered species.