WOW 101: The State of Wildlife

Posted by Brad Johnson Tue, 12 Mar 2019 20:42:00 GMT

Chair Jared Huffman opening statement:

Welcome to the Water, Oceans, and Wildlife subcommittee 101 hearing on the state of wildlife. So far, we’ve talked about the state of our water supplies, the state of our oceans, and now it’s time to talk about wildlife.

Our topic today is especially fitting because it is National Wildlife Week. This week celebrates the anniversaries of several important events in the preservation of our nation’s wildlife, including the establishment of the first National Wildlife Refuge, Pelican Island, in 1903; the Duck Stamp Act of 1934; and the founding of the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 1940. For over a century, Americans have expected that their representatives work together to protect wildlife. And that’s because our experiences with nature and wildlife are fundamental to our cultures, our families, and our way of life. Maybe you go hunting or fishing with your family, maybe your kids watch the birdfeeder in the backyard, or maybe you’ve visited our national parks and wildlife refuges and seen all the wild beauty that our country has to offer. I, for one, get out as much as possible in my district to fish. There are few things better than a relaxing day spent fishing at a quiet spot on the North Coast of California.

I think it’s safe to say that we all want to protect native wildlife, both for the sake of wildlife itself and for us and future generations to enjoy. In fact, 4 out of 5 Americans support the Endangered Species Act and protecting species. We also share the goal of helping endangered wildlife around the globe, whether it is elephants, rhinos, tigers, polar bears, whales, or pandas.

Although we come from different states, with different landscapes and regional issues, the goal of today’s hearing is to get a clear and fact-based overview of the state of wildlife. Unfortunately, what I know so far, and what our expert witnesses will likely tell you, is that the state of many species in this country and across the globe is dire. In the history of the planet, there have been 5 major extinctions of life on Earth, including the time a meteor wiped out the dinosaurs. While you may not see a meteor falling from outer space or volcanoes filling the skies with ash right now, scientists have determined that we are in the middle of a sixth mass extinction.

And the truth is, it’s because of us. Human activity has destroyed all kinds of habitat, polluted our water and air, and is changing the climate in ways that many species of wildlife are struggling to keep up with. If we don’t do something about climate change, scientists predict that 1 in 6 species could face extinction.

However, it’s completely in our ability to solve these problems. There are several legislative proposals to protect wildlife that have been put forward by members of this Congress. We plan to hold legislative hearings soon to get many of these bills moving. We will also be conducting oversight of this administration, which we’ve seen place industry interests above those of the American people over and over again, including protecting wildlife and outdoor recreation.

Just last week, we held a hearing on the many threats facing one of the most endangered whales alive today, the North Atlantic right whale. Catering to oil and gas companies, the Trump administration has decided to increase the stressors facing this already imperiled species, even in the face of opposition from local communities and states.

The Endangered Species Act is another top target for the Trump administration. The administration is currently finalizing rules that would create loopholes in the law, putting more species at risk of extinction and giving more leeway to industry. We expect the administration to release the final rules any day now. The Trump administration is also undermining protections for wildlife in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, one of the last remaining pristine habitats on Earth, by opening it up to oil and gas drilling. Over 700 species of plants and animals call the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge home, including polar bears, wolves, and the Porcupine caribou herd, which the Gwich’in people have relied on for time immemorial. I introduced the Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act to restore protections for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and urge my colleagues to join over one hundred other Members of Congress in supporting the bill.

The Trump administration announced last year that “incidental take” under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act would no longer be interpreted as prohibiting the incidental killing of birds. And guess who benefits? You guessed it: oil and gas companies. Finally, the quality of key habitats that promote recreation, hunting, and fishing, as well as access to these habitats, are being eroded by the administration’s energy-dominance policy. As you can see, there is a clear pattern here. And unfortunately, the list goes far beyond these few instances I’ve described today. So this Congress, this committee has a lot of work to do – making sure we hold this administration accountable for decisions that further threaten wildlife and putting new, innovative ideas forward to address the sixth mass extinction. We’re going to hear from a great panel of wildlife experts today. Thank you all for being here. I now invite the Ranking Member for his remarks, and then we will welcome and introduce our witnesses.

Majority witnesses
  • Jamie Rappaport Clark, President and Chief, Executive Officer, Defenders of Wildlife
  • Dan Ashe, President and Chief Executive, Officer, Association of Zoos & Aquariums
  • Christy Plumer, Chief Conservation Officer, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership
Minority witnesses
  • Valerie Covey, Commissioner, Precinct Three, Williamson County Commissioner’s Court, Georgetown, TX
  • Rodger D. Huffman, President, Union County, Oregon Cattlemen’s Association

Alaska Drilling Sale Announced Before Polar Bear Endangerment Decision

Posted by Brad Johnson Thu, 03 Jan 2008 17:29:00 GMT

The U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS) will hold its first federal Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas lease sale since 1991 on February 6. It is leasing nearly 46,000 square miles in the Chukchi Sea off the northwest coast of Alaska, with estimated conventional reserves of 15 billion barrels of oil. Waters within 25 miles of the coast are excluded from the lease area. This announcement comes just six days before the January 9 deadline for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to decide whether to list the polar bear as endangered because of the global-warming induced decline of Arctic sea ice, some of which covers the Chukchi Sea.

The MMS believes that environmental concerns will be sufficiently addressed by its stipulations, which do not consider the effects of climate change:
The sale area will not include nearshore waters ranging from about 25 to 50 miles from the coast, which includes the near-shore “polynya” through which the bowhead and beluga whales, other marine mammals, and marine birds migrate north in the spring, and in which local communities subsistence hunt. Leases issued from the sale will include stipulations to address environmental effects that may occur because of exploration and development of the area’s oil and gas resources. These stipulations call for protection of biological resources, including protected marine mammals and birds and methods to minimize interference with subsistence hunting and other subsistence harvesting activities.

Environmental organizations are livid. The World Wildlife Fund published a series of statements from Alaska Wilderness League, Center for Biological Diversity, Audubon, and indigenous activists condemning the threat to the polar bear and other marine life from the planned sale.

In the fine print of its final notice of sale, the MMS does note:
Lessees are advised that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to list the polar bear (Ursus maritimus) as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act and has initiated a comprehensive scientific review to assess the current status and future of the species. The FWS anticipates making a decision in early 2008 on whether to list polar bears under the ESA. Please refer to for additional information. If the polar bears are ultimately listed under the ESA, then MMS will consult with FWS under Section 7 of the ESA, and may be required to apply additional mitigation measures on OCS activities to ensure appropriate protection.

Update: Sierra Club has launched a letter-writing campaign to “chill the drills” in what it calls the “Polar Bear Seas”.