Unprecedented Action Would Condemn American Burying Beetle, Lesser Prairie Chicken to Extinction
In a partisan vote, the U.S. House of Representatives approved an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act today to end all federal protections for the American burying beetle and lesser prairie chicken under the Endangered Species Act. Despite the fact that the current range of the lesser prairie chicken does not overlap with any U.S. military bases, and the Defense Department has been a partner in conserving the American burying beetle since 1989, Tea Party Republicans assert, with no supporting evidence, that these species interfere with military readiness and must be delisted. This must-pass legislation now moves to the Senate for further consideration.
“This partisan vote isn’t about military readiness. It’s about the deep antipathy that most Republicans now direct at endangered species, especially those that get in the way of the oil and gas industry,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Republicans know that the overwhelming majority of Americans support the Endangered Species Act, so now they are trying to sidestep the Act and science and throw the less well-known species off the ark in the dead of night. Condemning a species to extinction under the pretense of supporting the military is a travesty.”
The American burying beetle was protected by the Endangered Species Act in 1989. It has declined by more than 90 percent and is ranked by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as “critically endangered.” Captive breeding and reintroduction efforts increased the total number of populations from just two in 1989 to more than 20 by 2011. The largest known population of the beetle is found on Camp Gruber, a 33,000-acre Army National Guard training center in Oklahoma, which is a partner in beetle preservation, protects natural habitats, and provides recreational and hunting opportunities to the public. Another large beetle population is found on the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant in Oklahoma. The McAlester base is also a willing partner in beetle conservation and was awarded the Department of Defense’s “best resource conservation program” in 2013.
Last year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service awarded Endangered Species Act protections to the lesser prairie chicken, which has lost more than 90 percent of its historic habitat and is now estimated to have a population of only a few thousand birds.
“From the golden-cheeked warbler in Texas to the Stephens kangaroo rat in California, and the leatherback turtle in North Carolina, the U.S. military has been one of our nation’s best stewards of endangered species over the past 40 years,” said Hartl. “The military understands that preserving our natural heritage for future generations is a critical part of protecting our defense, our economy and our way of life.”
In another environmentally hostile move two weeks ago, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) included a provision in the underlying National Defense Authorization Act bill to prevent the Fish and Wildlife Service from protecting sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act until 2025. The provision would allow governors of states within sage grouse range to effectively veto any federal land management changes designed to protect the animals. Bishop’s language would virtually eliminate the ability of the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service to improve environmental stewardship where oil and gas extraction, mining and livestock grazing occur and effectively turns over management authority on approximately 60 million acres of public lands to individual states. The Republican leadership refused to allow a vote on the House floor to remove this provision from the bill.
“It’s never been more obvious that House Republicans are willing to sacrifice any plant or animal that gets in the way of short-term profits and campaign contributions,” said Hartl. “Had this group of Republicans been given the chance, they would have condemned bald eagles, brown pelicans and green sea turtles to death just to enrich their corporate donors.”
The Obama administration has threatened to veto the House’s bill.