This is a guest post from Rick Lamplugh, an author and wildlife advocate from Gardiner, Montana. Rick writes to protect wildlife and preserve wildlands. He lives near Yellowstone’s north gate and is just finishing his new book, Deep into Yellowstone: A Year’s Immersion in Grandeur and Controversy. He is the author of the Amazon bestseller In the Temple of Wolves, available as eBook or paperback or as a signed copy from Rick.
The Endangered Species Coalition is bringing me and a number of other advocates to Washington, D.C. for a couple days to lobby for the Endangered Species Act. I respect the work of this national coalition of hundreds of conservation-minded organizations, and I’m glad to go. To prepare, I’m researching and writing. Here’s some of what I’ve found.
The ESA faces a coordinated attack. One of the attackers is U.S. Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT)—the same politician who wants to sell off our public lands. Another is U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY). He wants to “modernize the ESA.” (Conservationists know that what he really means is “gut the ESA.”) He says that less than 3 percent of protected species have recovered enough to no longer need protection. Then he proclaims, “As a doctor, if I admit 100 patients to the hospital and only 3 recover enough under my treatment to be discharged, I would deserve to lose my medical license.”
That’s a good sound bite. But let’s take his medical argument further.
Consider a species being placed under ESA protection as similar to an ailing person’s ambulance ride to the emergency room. Once the patient arrives, the hospital must spend money to diagnose and fix the problem. More must be spent on follow-up to make sure the treatment worked. If a hospital failed to spend this money, the patient would not get better. But that wouldn’t be the fault of the ambulance that delivered the patient.
In truth, listing a species under the ESA—giving it the ambulance ride—is the relatively easy step. Once listed, time, resources, and money must be spent to implement a plan that will fix the problems that create the threat. That money is not being spent. The ESA is not the problem. The problem is shortsighted politicians refusing to fund it adequately.
The Center for Biological Diversity (a member of the Endangered Species Coalition) studied ESA funding and found it has been “chronically and severely underfunded.” Yet even while shortchanged, the ESA has been—contrary to Senator Barrasso’s claim—incredibly effective. It has prevented the extinction of 99 percent of species under its protection and put hundreds of species on the road to recovery.
The Center determined that the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s current annual budget for recovery of the more than 1,500 protected species is $82 million per year. That covers little more than basic administrative functions.
In their estimation, “…fully implementing recovery plans for all listed species managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service would require approximately $2.3 billion per year, about the same amount that’s given to oil and gas companies to subsidize extraction of fossil fuels on public lands and a tiny fraction of the roughly $3.7 trillion federal budget in 2015.”
The Center’s solution is simple: increase annual appropriation for endangered species recovery over the next 10 years.
In other words, Dr. Barrasso, if you really want to modernize, spend the money to treat the patient that the ambulance delivered to you for help.
This post originally appeared June 14th, 2017 on Rick Lamplugh’s blog.