For the last decade Republican legislators have been crying foul regarding the sweeping powers of the Endangered Species Act, especially in regard to what landowners can and cannot do on their own private property. But now that Republicans have an increased majority in Congress, they are poised to make major changes weakening the ability of the federal government to protect endangered species through restrictions on development and resource extraction on privately owned wildlife habitat.
“I see this as one of the best opportunities we’ve had to achieve some common-sense reform, especially with the new makeup in the Senate,” said Brian Kennedy, spokesperson for House Resources Committee Chair and California Republican Richard Pombo. “But we’re not kidding ourselves that it’s going to be easy.” Pombo and other Republicans have repeatedly made claims that the Endangered Species Act has been ineffective at saving wildlife—with only 14 species recovered enough for removal from the threatened and endangered lists in three decades—as well as unnecessarily onerous on landowners forced to limit development for the sake of habitat conservation.
Meanwhile, environmentalists, as well as many Democratic legislators, see the Endangered Species Act as the most progressive and effective wildlife protection mechanism in history, and are working hard to make sure the law still has some teeth in the face of increasing threats to wildlife. “We have hundreds of species that would not be around today if not for the Endangered Species Act,” says John Kostyack, senior counsel for the National Wildlife Federation. “Success stories like the whooping crane and the bald eagle and the black-footed ferret are all things we should celebrate and build upon.” But in the post November 2 political climate, backers of a strong Endangered Species Act have little to be optimistic about.