“Weakening protections for our nation’s fish and wildlife in a piece of legislation intended to strengthen national defense is simply unacceptable”
Washington, DC – The U.S. House passed an earmark-riddled version of the National Defense Authorization Act.
“Weakening protections for our nation’s fish and wildlife in a piece of legislation intended to strengthen national defense is simply unacceptable,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “These extraneous provisions would block carefully-negotiated deals with business and other stakeholders to recover endangered species, would exacerbate problems with invasive species in the Great Lakes, and would transfer vast areas of land to the military—land that our military neither wants, nor needs. These measures should be stripped when the House and Senate go to conference so the President can sign a National Defense Authorization Act that strengthens our national security without undermining our natural resources.”
Provisions of the House’s National Defense Authorization Act attacking wildlife, public lands and natural resources include:
Blocking sage grouse protections: Section 2864 would block implementation of the collaborative federal land use plans and prevent listing under the Endangered Species Act for the next decade. The federal plans were developed with input from states, private landowners and others in an effort to avoid the need to list the bird. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service has worked with 1,100 ranches since 2010 to conserve 4.4 million acres of sage-grouse habitat on private lands. The same sagebrush steppe that sage grouse depend on supports more than 350 species, including deer, elk, pronghorn, bighorn sheep and golden eagles.
Giving invasive species a Clean Water Act exemption: The bill includes S. 373, the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA), which would discard the Clean Water Act’s goal of stopping invasive species and replace it with a law that would enshrine ineffective standards for removing invasive species from ships’ ballast water discharges that bear no relation to the protection of water quality. Aquatic invasive species cost this country billions of dollars annually – from damage to industrial and governmental facilities to closure of commercial fishing industries.
Sell-off of Desert National Wildlife Refuge: Over half (800,000+ acres) of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada would be transferred to the Air Force, which has not requested the transfer. The Desert National Wildlife Refuge provides habitat for desert bighorn sheep, mule deer, mountain lions, and other wildlife that depend on Great Basin and Mojave Desert ecosystems. This sell-off would waive National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) safeguards and strip the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) of its authority to conserve species and their habitats on the affected lands.
Stripping species of the Endangered Species Act protections: This bill would block protections for two species against the recommendations of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:
Lesser Prairie Chicken: Section 2866 would block ESA protections for the lesser prairie chicken for at least six years, then impose arbitrary restrictions on whether the Secretary of the Interior can relist the lesser prairie-chicken regardless of its biological status. The lesser prairie chicken occupies less than 15 percent of its former range and its population dropped by half between 2012 and 2013. FWS listed the prairie chicken as threatened in 2014 and exempted certain oil and gas and agricultural activities from ESA requirements but in September 2015 a court vacated the listing decision on the grounds that the agency didn’t adequately consider whether voluntary conservation programs would save the bird. FWS is expected to appeal the decision or re-propose the bird for listing. Congressional intervention would cut off endangered species recovery funds and eliminate a major incentive for landowners and developers to participate in recovery efforts.
American Burying Beetle: Section 2866 would immediately and permanently remove the American burying beetle from protection under the ESA and prevent it from receiving any protections in the future, which would be the first time Congress has delisted an endangered or threatened species without the support of FWS. The American burying beetle formerly occupied 34 states and DC, and may have numbered in the tens of millions, but declined to two known populations by the time it was listed as endangered in 1989, possibly due to the decline in large carcasses on the landscape.
Sec. 526 for Alternative Fuels: Also contained in the House NDAA bill is a repeal of Section 526 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. Sec. 526 is a beneficial provision in existing law that restricts the federal government from purchasing alternative fuels that are more polluting than conventional fuels. The purpose of this law is to reduce the Department of Defense’s (DOD) dependence on oil from hostile regions of the world, to spur development of advanced, lower-carbon fuels and to promote energy security through climate stability. Repeal of this provision is unwanted by DOD and unwise for our climate and clean energy future.
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