Momentum for ESA revision slows

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 1995:

WASHINGTON D.C.––Congressional observers predict that proposed revisions
to the Endangered Species Act won’t be taken up in earnest by the House and Senate until
1996––and that could be favorable for species protection, since drastic actions are less like-
ly in an election year. With polls showing the Republican House majority winning an
approval rating of less than 35%, and continued strong public support for the ESA in prin-
ciple, a severely damaged ESA could cost many first-term Republicans their seats.
Showing awareness of the importance of good positioning on endangered species,
the Senate on August 9 crushed an amendment proposed by Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) to delete
funding for the red wolf recovery program in North Carolina and Tennessee. Helms
claimed there are 170 red wolves at large in his state, killing livestock and on one occasion
attacking a child—but was corrected by red wolf supporters, who reminded him that the
Fish and Wildlife Service puts the North Carolina wolf population at from 39 to 66; none
have ever attacked either livestock or a child; and a recent survey by North Carolina State
University found that the majority of North Carolinians favor the wolf recovery program.

Earlier, on August 8, the Senate amended a freeze on designating new endan-
gered species, approved by the House as part of a $12.1 billion budget recommendation for
the Department of the Interior, and instead made it a one-year moratorium on new listings.
The moratorium, if not vetoed by President Bill Clinton, would insure that no new species
are added for the duration of this Congress. That would give Congress time to produce a
revised ESA before the listing process resumes, if it resumes.
Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt on August 10 asked Clinton to veto the bill in
question. The following day, Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada) was to offer a floor amend-
ment to transfer $8.6 million from the Bureau of Mines appropriation to fund pre-endan-
gered species listing research. Action was pending as ANIMAL PEOPLE went to press.
The high-profile red wolf vote aside, wise-users still control key committees in
both the House and Senate––and are more determined than ever to gut the ESA now, while
they have the chance, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 on June 29 that the ESA as it
currently stands does permit protection of critical habitat, as well as endangered species
themselves. The decision, rendered in Babbitt vs. Sweet Home Chapter of Communities
for a Greater Oregon, reversed a surprise ruling in March 1994 by the U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals for the District of Columbia, which held, contrary to 18 years of previous higher
court rulings, that the definition of “take” used in the ESA prohibition of “taking” endan-
gered species did not include taking habitat.
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