During my tenure as commissioner of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, I learned firsthand what I had always known intuitively: Maine’s wildlife is a valued and wondrous gift that, at the same time, is resilient and fragile. As commissioner, the department in my charge was tasked with management, advancement and protection of our state’s rich natural resources, including game and nongame species. The state, however, could only do so much, and without the protections of the Endangered Species Act, or ESA, first passed in 1973, many of our efforts would have fallen short.
Unfortunately, the ESA is under attack.
Despite its nearly 99 percent success rate of preventing the extinction of listed species, the ESA is under fire as some in Congress continue to try to weaken or eliminate very important portions of the act. For example, there have been multiple legislative proposals introduced to prevent intrastate species — species that can only be found in one state — from being listed under the ESA. This could lead to the extinction of countless species because states do not spend adequate funds on the protection and recovery of imperiled species. Such a move would place every single threatened or endangered species in Hawaii in danger of extinction. In addition, several unique species in Alaska would be at risk, including the wood bison — a native species that is just now returning to the state through reintroduction programs made possible by the ESA.
Although Hawaii and Alaska may feel far away to those of us in the Northeast, other anti-ESA proposals would directly impact creatures native to the Pine Tree State. Many of our wildlife owe their protection and continued survival to the ESA. Among them are the roseate tern, the piping plover, several sub-species of sea turtles, the shortnose sturgeon and multiple whale species including the finback and right whale. Plant life, such as the beautiful eastern orchid, depends on the ESA to fight their way back into flourishment.
In addition to the examples above, a host of anti-ESA riders — including riders removing ESA protections for endangered and threatened species, and preventing the listing of other species — were included on the fiscal year 2016 House and Senate Interior Appropriations bills. Some in Congress also have attempted to include drastic changes to the ESA as riders or amendments to short-term federal agency funding mechanisms known as “Continuing Resolutions.” One pending appropriations bill rider would block ESA protections for listed species if the Fish and Wildlife Service, which administers the act, does not complete a review of a particular species in five years. Five-year reviews are already required, but many are not completed on time, largely because of inadequate appropriations from Congress.
In total, there’ve been more than 80 bills, amendments and policy “riders” proposed in Congress since January that would dramatically weaken the act and harm individual listed species already at risk of extinction. Collectively, these proposals represent the most sweeping attack on the ESA since it was passed 42 years ago.
When we consider the 40 years it took for the bald eagle to recover, this congressional attack on the ESA is extremely short-sighted or, more ominously put, an insidious effort to essentially end the ESA. And, if these harmful riders go forward, it sends a signal to the American public that our representatives can and will pass legislation to eventually unravel the entire ESA, leaving Maine species like the piping plover and least tern at risk of extinction.
Maine is famous for its natural resources. Our state is also renowned for the storied statesmen and women we have sent to the United States Senate. That tradition continues: Susan Collins, our senior senator, has never missed a roll-call vote and is one of the most powerful elected women in the federal government. Angus King, although still in his first term, has already made his mark as a strong independent voice in D.C. With representation such as this, Maine’s — and the nation’s — endangered and threatened species can continue to be in good hands.
That is why it is more important than ever that Collins and King know the Endangered Species Act — legislation that has protected some of the most vulnerable animal and plant species in our country — is in need of protection itself.
Maine and Mainers are counting on them.
Rep. Roland “Danny” Martin, D-Sinclair, served as commissioner of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife from 2003-2011.