Jim, the protection of millions of acres is under review by the Trump administration. The lands and waters being reconsidered were designated as national monuments or marine sanctuaries by previous administrations and a public comment period is underway to gather input on whether to keep or remove these protected area designations.
Those under review include eleven marine national monuments and marine sanctuaries that are important feeding and breeding areas for fish, birds, endangered turtles and marine mammals. Several of these protected areas contain unique species of corals and marine animals found nowhere else on earth. Continuing their protection ensures that the animals dependent upon these habitats will survive to be enjoyed by future generations.
Such a proposal is unprecedented; no president has ever revoked a national monument designated by his predecessors. You can use the sample copy below.
Please submit a comment by July 10, stating:
I oppose revising or removing protection for the national monuments under review, including the five island and undersea areas currently designated as Marine National Monuments.
One herd of the Atlantic walrus is already extinct and two other herds could have the same fate, according to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. (J. Higdon/Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada)
The list of species at risk of extinction in Canada has grown to 751, and the effects of climate change may put those species even more at risk — especially the 62 species in the North.
The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada recently completed a meeting on at-risk species — which include animals, plants and lichen — adding another five to its list <http://www.cosewic.gc.ca/default.asp?lang=en&n=03E6BEA6-1> , and reassessing the status of several others.
“The North is one of the areas facing the greatest potential risk from climate change, many of these species are already behind the eight ball,” according to committee chair Eric Taylor.
Two species that live in the North that Taylor highlighted are the Atlantic walrus and eastern migratory caribou, both of which reside in the North and have had “significant changes” in their populations.
“Particularly the caribou,” Taylor told CBC News. “Part one of the large herds, the George River herd, that one had a precipitous decline up to about 99 per cent over three generations.”
The Eastern migration caribou, has seen a 99 per cent decline in its population in three generations, the committee reports. (Submitted by Katrina Noel)
The massive decline is partly from hunting and also because of a destruction <http://cbc.ca/1.4038199> of habitat in part because of climate change.
The walrus population in the Atlantic has already lost one herd to extinction, Taylor said, while the two others are listed as special concern, which means if things don’t improve they are also at risk of becoming extinct.
It can take years for a species to land on the official list, he said, which is concerning for species with fast population decline such as the caribou.
“Who knows what’s going to happen in the time it takes to actually consider their listing and design a recovery strategy that could take years,” Taylor said.
He acknowledges that there are many challenges such as resources and Canada’s vast landscape in helping at risk populations, but “we’ve got to get moving.”
“The longer we delay doing something about these plants and animals the greater is the risk that what we do won’t be effective,” he said.
Climate change adds an element of the unknown for the protection of these species, he said.
“Climate change presents sort of a moving target. It’s hard to know what the extent will be and how that might impact our recovery actions right now.”
Another big unknown is how different species will adapt to changes in climate, especially if climate changes or other activities destroy a species’ habitat, Taylor said.
“It’s all intertwined, which adds to the enormous complexity,” he said.
The five newly identified at-risk species, not all of which live in the North, are the Ord’s kangaroo rat, some populations of lake sturgeon, the butternut tree, Harris’s sparrow and shortfin mako sharks.
The following essay is reprinted with permission from The Conversation, an online publication covering the latest research.
On April 19 of this year, five major wildlife protection groups petitioned the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to list the giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) as an endangered species. As the petition asserted, “the giraffe has suffered a major reduction in population size across its range primarily due to habitat loss, commercial overutilization, and severe poaching, and such decline continues unabated.”
If the Fish and Wildlife Service agrees to list the giraffe, a set of legal tools will become available to protect this iconic species. But how would listing in the U.S. help this African mammal, whose population numbers in the wild have dipped below 100,000?
EXTINCTION IS FOREVER
While extinction can be a natural process, the current rate of extinction is anything but. Scientists estimate that at least 99 out of 100 species extinctions in the world today are the result of human action. Although people rarely intend to drive species into oblivion, as with the giraffe, they do so through the destruction of habitat, poaching and legal hunting. As the petition notes, “[g]iraffes once occupied much of the savanna and savanna woodlands of Africa…. [It] has undergone a 36 to 40 percent population decline over the past 30 years.”
More than a century ago, scientists began to notice the disappearance of once prominent species around the world. TheAmerican passenger pigeon, the Carolina parakeet and the Great Auk—once well-established in North America—disappeared. Other species like the American bison and many kinds of whales had once played central roles in important ecosystems but had been reduced to small remnant populations.
“If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”
What would you say to a child who saw a giraffe in a book and asked where giraffes lived? Would you be comfortable saying they’re all gone?
ROOTS OF REGULATION
In 1964, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) began tracking the conservation status of species on its “Red List.” Although the IUCN provides information only about the status of species, this is the first step in helping to limit extinction because it allows conservation efforts to be directed where they’re most needed.
A few years later in the United States, the federal government began keeping an official list of species in danger of extinction—what we call endangered species—and species likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future—threatened species.
The Endangered Species Act (ESA), passed in 1973, goes further than just identifying imperiled species. Under its terms, listed species are protected from actions “authorized, funded or carried out” by the federal government that may jeopardize their continued existence or adversely affect their essential habitat. Species members are also protected from direct harm by any person. Commerce in species protected by the ESA is generally a crime.
The purpose of the ESA is the “conservation” of protected species. In practice, that means bringing the species back to the point where it no longer requires the protection of the ESA. The law’s goal is not to preserve tiny populations on the brink of extinction but to recover species populations that are resilient enough to survive the bad luck which is so often part of living on the planet.
Listing is the public, administrative process whereby a species can become entitled to protection under the Endangered Species Act. It centers around one question: Is this creature or plant in danger of extinction? At the listing stage, the federal government can consider only scientific evidence in making its decision. Anyone can initiate the listing process via petition.
There are now 1,382 species of animals listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened or endangered; 711 live largely within the borders of the United States. For these species, the federal Endangered Species Act can help preserve habitat, require “consultation” on projects that need federal approval and make most hunting illegal.
AMERICAN LISTING FOR AN AFRICAN ANIMAL
The giraffe, of course, is not native to the United States. How would ESA listing help it? The habitat destruction and overharvesting that threaten the giraffe aren’t happening within U.S. borders.
The answer lies in the role the United States plays in buying and selling giraffe parts. According to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service database, over the past decade Americans imported more than 21,000 giraffe bone carvings, more than 3,000 skin pieces and 3,744 hunting trophies. If many people want giraffe parts, the demand can be too high for survival of the species. Heightened demand for giraffe products can encourage people to hunt illegally—for example, taking more giraffes than limits allow or hunting in places where it is not permitted.
Around the world, markets for species parts are sometimes driven by traditional uses—things like carving ivory or using certain animal parts in traditional medicines. New uses fuel demand too; think of newly wealthy businessmen in Vietnam consuming rhino horn mixed with water or alcohol to show how rich they are. Sometimes, the two can converge: An increase in consumption of shark fin soup has been tied to a traditional celebration dish being served by more people as China’s middle class grew.
Listing on the ESA would require the federal government to limit imports of giraffe parts into the United States and would therefore help curtail global demand. The ESA cannot ensure habitat protection or require other countries to take affirmative conservation action to protect the giraffe. But listing in the U.S. would limit one important threat in which Americans do play a role.
Javan rhinos used to roam widely throughout southeastern Asia, but poaching and habitat loss has reduced their numbers and range immensely. Today, they are only found in Ujung Kulon National Park, on the Indonesian island of Java. New research suggests they may be even more vulnerable to extinction than thought.
In the largest survey to date, researchers placed motion-activated cameras at nearly 200 locations throughout the park. After analyzing the large amount of video collected, they determined that only 62 Javan rhinos remain in the wild. These few live in low-lying areas that could be inundated by a tsunami, researchers write in a study describing their findings, published in the journal Conservation Letters .
By virtue of their location, such an event is likely in the not-too-distant future; The rhinos happen to live in a tectonically and volcanically active neighborhood. Just to the south of Java, the Australian plate slides beneath the southeastern corner of the Eurasian plate, creating a deep trough called the Javan (or Sunda) trench. This area is prone to earthquakes, like the one that created the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Researchers calculate that if the same size wave hit western Java, which could’ve happened if the tsunami occurred slightly to the southeast, it would “have put most, if not all, rhinos at risk from drowning,” write the authors.
And a tsunami of this size—reaching a maximum “run-up” of 48 meters (155 feet) above sea level—would not be necessary to cause serious damage. The researchers conclude that a tsunami that made it to 10 meters, or 33 feet, above sea level would threaten 80 percent of the rhinos’ territory. Such a tsunami will probably occur in the next 100 years, says corresponding author Brian Gerber, a postdoctoral researcher at Colorado State University.
The park also happens to sit about 50 miles from one of the world’s most fearsome volcanoes: Anak Krakatoa. It is the “offspring” of the Krakatoa volcano which erupted in 1883, the most cataclysmic in modern history, the reverberations of which were felt around the world. Anak Kratoa, which means “childs of Krakatoa,” has been growing from the destroyed remnants of this volcanic island ever since. If it erupts before 2040 scientists estimate it could create tsunamis that reach up to nearly 70 feet above sea level. If it erupts after then, the waves could rise to heights of almost 100 feet.
For this reason, a second population of Javan rhinos needs to be established to increase the likelihood of their survival, Gerber says. It also underscores the importance of protecting the animals from being poached for their horns, which are incorrectly thought to have medicinal value. The rhino horn trade is responsible for the depletion of rhinos around the world, including the mainland subspecies of the Javan rhino, the last of which was poached in Vietnam in 2009.
The “study provides good momentum for our efforts to save the Javan rhino, considering that we are racing against time,” says Arnold Sitompul, conservation director of World Wildlife Fund-Indonesia, who wasn’t involved in the paper, in a statement. “We need the social and political will to move things forward and establish additional populations.”
Today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the Greater Sage-grouse, an iconic bird of the American West, does not warrant listing under the Endangered Species Act.
Conservationists, ranchers, politicians, and industry have been on edge for months in anticipation of the decision, which was announced just days before a court-ordered September 30 deadline. The possibility of a listing had sparked fears of huge economic losses in the sage-grouse’s expansive habitat out West, as it would have restricted energy development, livestock grazing, and residential construction. States and federal agencies that control public lands have scrambled to create updated sage-grouse recovery plans in order to avert a listing. And many conservationists worried that a formal listing could undermine the serious—and pioneering—voluntary efforts taken to protect the bird’s sagebrush habitat in recent years.
Indeed, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell confirmed in a video released on Twitter this morning that a major factor in the determination was the cooperative efforts of federal agencies, states, private landowners, industry, and green groups to safeguard the chubby, chicken-sized bird. That includes the Bureau of Land Management’s 14 new sage-grouse recovery plans—consolidated from 98 distinct land use plans, all of which were officially formalized today—that will conserve 35 million acres of federal lands across 10 states. In total, the collective plans to protect the bird “significantly reduced threats to the Greater Sage-grouse across 90 percent of the species’ breeding habitat,” enabling the organization to conclude that the bird did not warrant listing, FWS stated in their release announcing the decision.
“This is truly a historic effort—one that represents extraordinary collaboration across the American West,” Jewell said in FWS’s statement. “It demonstrates that the Endangered Species Act is an effective and flexible tool and a critical catalyst for conservation—ensuring that future generations can enjoy the diversity of wildlife that we do today.”
“This is a new lease on life for the Greater Sage-grouse and the entire sagebrush ecosystem,” said National Audubon Society President and CEO David Yarnold. “Unprecedented cooperation by private landowners, states, and the federal government has created a framework for conservation at a scale unique in the world.”
When FWS first announced that the bird would be considered for a federal listing in 2010, regional conservation efforts had already been underway. “This is exactly what Audubon has been working toward for 10 years,” says Brian Rutledge, VP and Central Flyway policy advisor for Audubon. Rutledge and his team helped create a science-based approach to sage-grouse protections that significantly reduces disturbance in core habitat—an approach that’s been adopted in state and federal plans alike. “This is the kind of cooperation the Endangered Species Act was designed to encourage,” he says. “It wasn’t intended to list everything under the sun; it was to motivate conservation before listing became necessary.”
Photo: Daly Edmunds
The Enormous Effort to Stave Off a Listing
The sagebrush steppe is an old-growth forest in miniature, with some species of the fragrant shrubs living for more than a century. Development has cut the habitat to half its historical size, and today it spans 173 million acres across 11 states. The sage-grouse is inextricably linked to this sagebrush ecosystem: The plants provide cover from raptors and other predators, serve as shelter for nesting birds in the summer, and supply the grouse’s sole source of food in the winter—in fact, the birds actually gain weight eating the leaves during the harsh winter months. But as the habitat has shrunk, the birds’ numbers have plummeted, from millions a century ago to between 200,000 and 500,000 today. (Scientists count males at leks, or mating grounds, to extrapolate a rough population estimate; obtaining an exact count is impossible because the birds are essentially invisible in the vast sagebrush sea.)
A sunset view on the sagebrush-covered top of Pinedale Mesa and the magnificent Wind River Range. Sublette County, Wyoming. Photo: Dave Showalter
The Greater Sage-grouse is an indicator species of the health of this entire ecosystem. The desire to keep the bird off the list—and stave off the many restrictions that come with a threatened or endangered status—has generated a rare show of cooperation from those interested in using the habitat for drilling, ranching, or other economic endeavors. In consultation with conservation groups and government agencies, they have made ambitious commitments to protect enough space for the bird while still permitting some development. Today’s announcement is a ratification that the approach is working. “We’re seeing landscape-scale conservation like we’ve never seen before,” says Audubon’s Rutledge.
See a timeline of Audubon’s involvement in this critical conservation issue.
Rutledge helped create a Wyoming sage-grouse management plan that allows sage-grouse and industry to co-exist. The state is home to 37 percent of the sage-grouse population, and is also a major producer of coal, natural gas, and beef—all of which rely on the same sagebrush habitat. Under Wyoming’s plan, surface disturbance—from roads to wind turbines to gas wells—in areas critical to sage-grouse are limited to a maximum of 5 percent per square mile. Since Wyoming adopted the scheme in 2010, it has successfully protected 15 million acres of sagebrush habitat. Following this success, other states put similar plans in place, thus reducing threats to birds on tens of millions of acres while still allowing for development.
“It could be a scary future indeed, with as many as 30 to 50 percent of all species possibly heading toward extinction by mid-century.” – Center for Biological Diversity
As humanity hurtles toward catastrophe, our legislators turn a blind eye to reality and continue to pander to forces of destruction and death. Instead of caring for the fragile life of this earth, legislators like state Sen. Tom Tiffany and U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson continue to ignore the science of the Endangered Species Act, pushing to kill our endangered wolves.
And the hunters want to kill cranes. They apparently are bored with killing other wildlife. Maybe they want a wolf with a crane in his mouth to hang on their walls.
It is not that difficult to connect the dots between the status quo and certain trajectory toward an unlivable and desolate home planet. The skies are emptying, as are woods and oceans — not through any natural force, but only by the violence of man. Chris Hedges writes in his recent “Reign of Idiots”: “Europeans and Americans have spent five centuries conquering, plundering, exploiting and polluting the earth in the name of human progress. … They believed that this orgy of blood and gold would never end, and they still believe it.”
Tiffany held yet another wolf hate conference, in early April, that was completely skewed to myth, lies, and fearmongering. He should be reminded that Richard Thiel, retired DNR wolf biologist, said on Wisconsin Public Radio, “I have worked with wolves in Wisconsin for 30 years. I have pushed them off of deer carcasses and had them walk right up to me. I never felt the need to carry a firearm and I never did.” Tiffany has been informed that only 2/10ths of 1 percent of livestock deaths can be attributed to wolves, whereas 90 percent of pre-slaughterhouse death is due to horrific farm conditions.
Yet Tiffany, Baldwin, Johnson and many other Republicans are bloodthirsty in pursuit of wolf-hater votes.
The Center for Biological Diversity describes the acceleration of extinction: “Because the rate of change in our biosphere is increasing, and because every species’ extinction potentially leads to the extinction of others bound to that species in a complex ecological web, numbers of extinctions are likely to snowball in the coming decades as ecosystems unravel.”
Yesterday, May 6, the DNR held a Wisconsin hunter education convention “on the future of hunter education with statewide experts in the field of hunter recruitment, retention, and reintroducing people of all ages to the outdoors and hunting.” For years, the DNR has offered $5 licenses to entice new hunters and trappers, especially targeting women and children, to bolster its power base of hunters and trappers.
The DNR has recruited and trained another 10,000 trappers over the past five years, deregulated lead shot and weapons and massively extended and liberalized seasons, shooting ranges, and access to public lands. It is paying for private land access. It is permitting the use of dogs to chase our wildlife without mercy or licenses, anytime, anywhere, with little or no oversight. It is paying $2,500, from the Endangered Species Fund, for each dog killed by wolves or bears defending themselves and their young.
In 2015-16 the DNR’s self-reported survey documented 284,395 wild animals crushed in traps throughout the state. Prices were down in that time period, with prices ranging from 71 cents for possums to $75 for bobcat skins. The total monetary value comes out to $1,258,651 or $4.42 per wild animal killed. Trappers are the only citizens who can destroy unlimited wild animals for profit, indiscriminately, and self-report.
Nonhunters have zero say.
If the 4.4 million voting-eligible citizens each put in 29 cents, we could buy back our 284,395 innocent wildlife and save them from such suffering and needless death. We are not given the option. Only death has a price tag and license.
The DNR “furbearer” committee allows the killing and parceling out of our wildlife like trashed cars. Instead of the cost-efficient beaver deceiver (a simple PVC pipe run through the bottom of a beaver dam to let water flow through), over 15,000 beavers are drowned and killed by trappers so trout can be stocked, and the federal wildlife “service” also kills thousands more to protect timber and for wild rice production. All of these so-called problems have humane solutions, but they are not utilized by the DNR or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Center for Biological Diversity warns, “(C)onserving local populations is the only way to ensure genetic diversity critical for a species’ long-term survival.” That means wolves, bears, bobcats, beavers, coyotes, and all wild life.
As Chris Hedges writes in “Reign of Idiots”: “There is a familiar checklist for extinction. We are ticking off every item on it.”
WILDLIFE — A professor who filed a complaint alleging his employer, Washington State University, has retaliated against him for making remarks critical of a cattle rancher and the state’s killing of a wolf pack appears to have been cleared of accusations by the university that he misused state resources by using his WSU email for lobbying activities.
Here’s the latest from Shanon Quinn of the Moscow-Pullman Daily News via AP:
While professor Wielgus was not mentioned by name, an internal audit report included in today’s WSU Board of Regents meeting packet appears to have cleared Wielgus of the accusation. The report, however, states investigators did discover evidence that his use of email may have been a misuse of state resources in “regard to the content of the messaging and repeated recommendations from management to use private resources related to the activity in questions.”
In his April 27 complaint, Wielgus alleged the university seriously damaged his academic career through the unwarranted use of suppression, condemnation and reprisal after he told the Seattle Times and other media outlets that rancher Len McIrvin intentionally released his livestock directly on top of a wolf den site, leading to cattle loss and the state responding by eliminating the pack. He later repeated the accusations to the Wolf Advisory Group in March.
Wielgus alleged the investigations into lobbying and improper use of state resources were “erroneous and arguably malicious.”
The WSU report findings did not mention Wielgus by name, but his attorney, Adam Carlesco of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said the item appeared to be Wielgus’ case.
According to a document from the Washington State Executive Ethics Board, uses of email are restricted for state employees, with misuse defined as conducting an outside business; engaging in political or campaign activities; advertising or selling products; solicitation on behalf of other persons unless approved by the agency head; and illegal or inappropriate activities, including harassment.
Carlesco said he takes issue with the charge of misuse of state resources.
“Dr. Wielgus sent over a single email containing data concerning wolf depredation … to the Washington Wolf Advisory Group, a group that he has been professionally involved with for 4 years, on a subject matter where he was appointed by the WA Legislature as the primary researcher through WSU,” Carlesco wrote in an email to the Daily News.
Carlesco said the email contained a recommendation from a rancher to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife on how to avoid conflict between wolves and livestock.
“He included a blatant disclaimer that his comments did not represent WSU and got approval from the Dean of the College of Agriculture and the school’s media affairs office to send out the message,” Carlesco wrote.
He wrote it was not until after the email was sent that Wielgus was instructed by the university to use his personal email address for such matters.
“We have the email chain showing as much,” he said.
The Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear a challenge to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to designate 187,000 square miles of Alaska’s coast and waters a critical habitat for the threatened polar bear.
Oil and gas trade associations, several Alaska Native corporations and villages, and the state of Alaska claimed the habitat designation was unjustifiably large. They also claimed the designation would do nothing to help conserve the polar bear.
“Polar bears are threatened by projected loss of sea ice habitat due to climate change, not on-the-ground activities in the Arctic,” the groups wrote in their petition to the court. “Polar bears and their habitat are already properly managed under the [Marine Mammal Protection Act].”
The Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the case leaves in place a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling upholding the designation.
The court gave no explanation for its decision not to hear the cases.
With most of Washington focused on fights over government funding, Obamacare and Russian meddling, a few congressional aides and outside advocates are quietly preparing for what could be an epic battle over the Endangered Species Act.
The contentious conservation law was protected by President Obama’s veto from Republican efforts to ease restrictions on farmers, energy companies and developers.
But with Republicans now controlling Capitol Hill and the White House for the first time since 2004, the endangered species law — which hasn’t been significantly updated since 1988 — appears vulnerable.
On one side of the fight are staffers for House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who said last year that he wants to repeal and replace the law (E&E Daily, Dec. 9, 2016).
But in the 115th Congress, Bishop is instead focused on narrow sections of the ESA that Republicans and industry groups find problematic.
His first hearing this year centered on a provision requiring input from the Fish and Wildlife Service or National Marine Fisheries Service — agencies that jointly administer the ESA — on government-approved or -funded projects that could “jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species or threatened species, or result in the destruction or adverse modification of [critical] habitat of such species”(E&E Daily, March 29).
The hearing was held by the increasingly important Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, a panel Bishop created after winning the Natural Resources gavel two years ago (E&E Daily, Jan. 14, 2015).
Led since January by Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho), Oversight has seven full-time GOP staffers — more than any other Natural Resources subcommittee, according to data from LegiStorm, a congressional staff tracking service.
Oversight staff director Rob Gordon, a veteran of the Hill’s periodic ESA fights, and counsel Megan Olmstead, a relative newcomer, will provide Republican lawmakers with most of the legislative ammunition they need. They and many other staffers featured in this story were not made available for interviews.
Gordon, who spent seven years at the conservative Heritage Foundation before returning to the Natural Resources panel when Bishop took over, also served as the Trump transition team’s advisor on regulatory reform (E&E Daily, Jan. 22, 2015). He has been working for decades to overhaul the law.
At the time, Gordon was the executive director of the National Wilderness Institute. The Vanderbilt University graduate left the oil industry-funded environmental group in 2004 to support the failed ESA reform efforts of former Resources Chairman Richard Pombo (R-Calif.).
Olmstead is working closely with Gordon on the committee’s reform efforts. After graduating a decade ago from the University of Portland, a Catholic school in Oregon, she bounced between Capitol Hill, the Idaho governor’s office and the University of Notre Dame’s law school before ending up with Natural Resources in September 2015, her profile on the social networking site LinkedIn shows. In law school, she studied the gray wolf’s status under the ESA.
Across the Capitol, staffers for Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) are also formulating an overhaul strategy.
So far, Barrasso has held one hearing that sought to build bipartisan consensus for ESA reform and marked up a bill that he introduced with ranking member Tom Carper (D-Del.) that would revive and bolster several wildlife protection programs and launch annual innovation prizes for endangered species management and other conservation challenges (Greenwire, April 5).
Matt Leggett, the committee’s deputy chief counsel, and Andrew Harding, who took his first Hill job as counsel in September 2016, are two of Barrasso’s lead ESA reformers.
Leggett began working for the chairman in 2012 as policy counsel for the Senate Republican Policy Committee, which Barrasso then led. The University of Virginia and Vanderbilt University Law School graduate also worked in corporate law and served on the House Agriculture Committee and in the offices of Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) and former Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.). As an intern, Leggett worked with Robert Spencer, when he was U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Erskine Bowles, when he was chief of staff to President Clinton.
Soon after joining the committee, Harding helped get last year’s water infrastructure bill (S. 612) passed into law. He is now mainly focusing on wildlife and oceans policies.
Harding previously worked for corporate law firms, President George W. Bush’s Energy secretaries and USA Synthetic Fuel Corp., a bankrupt coal liquefaction company. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Washington and Lee University and graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law, according to LinkedIn.
The counselors’ efforts are overseen by staff director Richard Russell, who earned a bachelor’s degree in biology at Yale University, and deputy staff director Brian Clifford, who has worked for Barrasso in a variety of roles over the past decade.
Any reform legislation Barrasso’s team produces will need to secure the votes of at least eight Democrats on the Senate floor to beat a filibuster. Their first challenge, however, will be winning over Mary Frances Repko, Carper’s deputy staff director.
“If you have dealt with the environment, if you have dealt with energy, or if you have dealt with the history of the Senate and the House on energy legislation and environmental legislation over the last 20 years, you know Mary Frances Repko,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said in a January floor speech honoring her for a decade of service in his office. The Maryland Democrat also noted she had worked closely with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on “fighting partisan anti-environment riders.”
Repko headed to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee the following month, the committee she staffed from 2003 until 2007, when she left to join Hoyer. She has also served on the staffs of Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.).
Prior to coming to the Hill, Repko worked on water issues for the World Wildlife Fund, a conservation group, and the Great Lakes Commission. The native of East Lansing, Mich., earned her bachelor’s degree at Johns Hopkins University and a master’s from the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment.
Republicans’ push for an ESA overhaul is likely to draw support from the Western Governors’ Association.
Under the leadership of Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R) in 2016, the conservative-leaning organization began advocating for ESA changes. At the same time, WGA endorsed a policy position urging Congress to reauthorize the law and this year convinced the National Governors Association to adopt a similar resolution (E&E News PM, March).
While Mead is no longer WGA chairman, policy adviser David Willms is still leading a series of meetings with a broad coalition of participants that aim to produce a specific set of recommendations that could make the ESA work better.
“We took some of the ideas that came out of that first year and have made them the subject of work sessions during the second year of this initiative,” Willms said in a phone interview from Cheyenne, Wyo., which he, his wife and two young daughters call home.
The sessions will wrap up in May, and the WGA hopes to have a list of fixes ready to promote by midsummer.
“Whether that is a set of recommendations that is taken to the Fish and Wildlife Service for regulatory changes, whether it includes recommended statutory changes, policy changes — all of that is to be determined,” he said. “But that’s what we’re moving towards, is seeing if there are places where there is consensus.”
The recommendations are being put together by representatives from state and federal government as well as groups representing sportsmen, environmentalists and the energy, lumber and agriculture industries. But Willms, who has also served in the Wyoming attorney general’s office and worked in private practice, declined to say exactly who is involved at this point.
One unlikely participant: the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife.
“I certainly believe fundamentally that the Endangered Species Act could work better,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, the president and CEO of Defenders. “And if there are ways to work better, we want to help that effort.”
But if a GOP reform bill emerges, Rappaport Clark — who often works seven days a week and uses a treadmill desk when she’s in the office — is ready to lead the fight against it.
“I don’t see a reform effort strengthening the law” in this Congress, she said. “I can only see a reform effort that will undermine and weaken the law’s ability to achieve its purposes.”
Rappaport Clark, an avid equestrian who lives in Virginia horse country with her husband and teenage son, is already working to educate Democratic senators about the damage that Defenders fears Republicans could do to vulnerable species and habitats. She is also attempting to rally other more broadly focused conservation groups, which are busy fighting to prevent the rollback of climate protection regulations and other environmental policies.
Her pitch is that the ESA is essentially the law of last resort for the environment.
“When the Clean Water Act fails, when the land laws fail, the Endangered Species Act will save enough,” she said. “We’re not going to allow extinction.”
That should be enough to mobilize the progressive community of Democratic lawmakers, environmentalists, minority groups, labor unions, religious groups and human rights organizations, Rappaport Clark reasoned.
“If — maybe I should say, when — the Endangered Species Act is truly under an assault, I have every expectation that folks will be there with us,” she said, before tapping her desk for good measure. “Knock on wood, please. They’d better be.”