Wildlife Extinction Bill threatens endangered species

Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.), a longtime foe of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), is about to introduce a bill that will dramatically alter the reach of the act. Titled the “Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act of 2005,” the Pombo bill has infuriated environmental groups, who have dubbed it the “Wildlife Extinction Bill.”

ESA is in many ways the underpinning of the entire structure of America’s environmental protection system. The Pombo bill would repeal ESA entirely in 2015.

The proposed bill dramatically alters the criteria a species must meet in order to qualify as endangered. While the current ESA requires that species be listed if their survival is threatened “in a significant portion of [their] range,” Pombo’s bill only considers a species to be endangered if its survival is threatened in its current remaining occupied habitat. In other words, if a healthy population of an endangered species exists in an isolated region but is threatened elsewhere, it would not be considered endangered.

Kieran Suckling, policy director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said this change in the act’s language “would wipe most currently endangered species off the list and prevent most others from ever getting there, making endangered species recovery impossible.”

Defying the ESA’s goal of assisting endangered species recovery, Pombo’s bill proposes to protect only enough habitat for an endangered species to survive on the brink of extinction, not enough to grow.

Jamie Rappaport Clark, former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and current vice president of Defenders of Wildlife, points out that, “Loss of habitat is widely recognized by scientists to be the primary cause of species endangerment and extinction.”

Further inhibiting endangered species from restoring their population to healthy levels, Pombo’s bill gets rid of the current ESA requirement to assist endangered species recovery using “all methods and procedures necessary to bring any endangered species or threatened species” back to levels where it is no longer considered endangered. Pombo’s bill makes the recovery requirement optional.

The bill also severely limits protection for “threatened species” whose populations are in rapid decline but not yet considered “endangered.” The current ESA mandates protection of critical habitat for both threatened and endangered species.