Celebrating 40 Years of Endangered Species Protection Is ‘Business-as-Usual’ in Wisconsin

Everyone in Wisconsin knows we have a long history here of caring for our natural resources and wildlife management. In fact, when the federal Endangered Species Act reached its 40th anniversary – officially December 28, 2013 – Wisconsin had already celebrated its own 40 years of protecting endangered and threatened species in the state.

Wisconsin became first in the nation to have such a state law, passing the Endangered and Threatened Species law in 1971, and enacting it in ’72 – nearly two years before the federal protections were signed into law. Take a look at this series of Wisconsin DNR webpages, headlined “There’s A Lot to Celebrate”  – dated January 1, 2012.  It’s the DNR”s anniversary tribute to the state’s Endangered and Threatened Species law, and it includes a slide show of bald eagles, osprey, trumpeter swans, whooping cranes and nine more species and programs that have been beneficiaries of the Wisconsin law.

Success story:  bald eagles were removed from Wisconsin's endangered list in 1997, and from the federal list in 2007. (USFWS photo)

Success story: bald eagles were removed from Wisconsin’s endangered list in 1997, and from the federal list in 2007. (USFWS photo)

But Is Congress a Danger to the Endangered Species Act?

When it comes to the federal Endangered Species Act it seems most Americans follow the Wisconsin example; the great majority of Americans show support for such protections.  In 2013 the Center for Biological Diversity commissioned a national poll that showed that 2 out of 3 Americans want the Endangered Species Act either strengthened or left as is – but not weakened. Nonetheless some in Congress are eyeing certain reforms that wildlife experts say would spell danger for the 1973 law and the species it protects.

Congressman Doc Hastings, a Republican from the state of Washington who has been the Chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources since 2011, admits that there is “strong and widespread support for helping to protect endangered species.” Yet, Hastings says he has the evidence that shows a need “to bring this 40-year-old law into the 21st century.” He said the Endangered Species Act Congressional Working Group, which he convened in 2013, has held forums and solicited comments from hundreds, and taken testimony from 70 witnesses.

A report from the group was issued in February and four recommendations have led to four bills which Hastings hopes to introduce and pass in this Congress. They call for more transparency and the posting of online data about endangered species listings, more reliance on data submitted by local governments and private landowners, and a curtailment of citizen lawsuits.

An analysis of the proposed legislation by the Defenders of Wildlife counters that the asked-for online disclosure of data would imperil protection efforts, and that the efforts to curtail lawsuits ignore the benefits that citizen suits do – protecting endangered species by holding federal agencies responsible. Defenders of Wildlife also opposes more reliance on data submitted by local governments and private landowners unless it can meet the standard for “the best scientific and commercial data available” which is already in place.

Two weeks after Hastings’ Congressional Working Group issued their report, the Center for Biological Diversity visited Congress, distributing their book-length report,  “A Wild Success: American Voices on the Endangered Species Act at 40.”  It contains more than 200 letters to the editor and op-ed pieces written by Americans all over the country during 2013. These talked about the importance of the Endangered Species Act to the writers, and they were published in local, regional and national newspapers, in celebration of the law’s anniversary.


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