Posted on 26 July 2011.
Note: The Extinction Rider referenced in this column is likely to be on voted on in the House of Representatives today or tomorrow.
Jeff Corwin at Defenders Annual Dinner 2009. Photo courtesy of Scott Robinson
By Jeff Corwin, Defenders’ board member and MSNBC science correspondent
Throughout my life, I have stared extinction in the face. In the eyes of the polar bear and her cub that I darted and tagged in Alaska. In the hazel eyes of the red wolf as I released her in Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge to join the last 100 in the wild. And in the eyes of the majestic condor that I held to my chest, one of just 321 in existence.
These creatures are among the 1,973 animals and plants that make up a list none ever want to be on–the list of threatened and endangered species. Unfortunately, there are 264 other species that are literally dying to get on this list. But they may never make it.
Why? Because Congress is playing Russian roulette with our nation’s imperiled wildlife. Congressman Simpson of Idaho has included a provision in a funding bill, which has already passed out of committee, which could seal the fate of species sliding toward extinction. Dubbed the ‘Extinction Rider,’ this provision would put a freeze on placing any more of these imperiled animals and plants on the list of endangered species, putting the brakes on providing them with the life-saving protections they need to survive.
This is a dangerous step for Congress to take. Many species have been in a sort of hospital waiting room for years after being placed on the candidate list. That means that the government experts believe there is substantial scientific data that proves the species is in jeopardy, but they don’t have the resources to put them on the endangered species list or send them to the hospital to recover. Now, Congress is preparing to kick them out of the waiting room, sending them home to fend for themselves. Sorry, the hospital is closed. Don’t expect any help here.
This is shocking on so many levels. Congress passed the Endangered Species Act in 1973 to protect our treasured wildlife from extinction. It placed the responsibility for protections with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, so that wildlife experts could make appropriate decisions on how to manage species based on the latest science. For nearly 40 years, our nation has protected the most vulnerable of our wildlife and celebrated our successes. Many Americans like me were filled with pride when the bald eagle recovered to the point of being taken off the endangered species list. In California, tax payers are donating funds on their state tax form to support sea otter conservation, to the tune of over a million dollars. Tourists flock to Yellowstone to get a glimpse of the recovered gray wolf. Young students in Florida raise money to purchase lands around their school to protect the Florida scrub jay.
But now, Congress is seriously considering turning its back on our nation’s commitment to protecting our most vulnerable wildlife. By issuing a moratorium on new listings, we could lose countless animals and plants. Animals such as the wolverine, whose population is declining due to the loss of snow pack to hibernate and raise its young. The red knot, whose migration route from the tip of South American to the Arctic each year is one of the longest migrations on the planet, and is being decimated by the overharvest of horse shoe crabs in the Delaware Bay, a critical food source to get them to the Arctic to breed each year. And numerous species of bats are taking a nose dive due to the deadly white nose syndrome, but are critical to controlling the insect population.
What is Congress thinking? Have they no pride in the successes we have achieved? Do they not understand the role that so many species play on this planet… from the insects that pollinate our crops to the medicinal value of plants. Have they no commitment to ensuring that we leave this planet a better place for our children and grandchildren?
I have seen the power of people to destroy and save wildlife. Now Congress has placed that power in its own hands. Members of Congress have a choice to make. And they need to take it seriously. Extinction is forever. There is no do-over. Hopefully, members of Congress will be able to look their own children in the eye and tell them they did the right thing for them and for their country and continued the commitment we made nearly 40 years ago to be heroes and to save our nation’s treasured wildlife for generations to come.
Jeff Corwin has worked for the conservation of endangered species and ecosystems around the globe. He is the host of a variety of popular television shows, including Animal Planet’s Jeff Corwin Experience, Corwin’s Quest, Giant Monsters, Spring Watch, and King of the Jungle; Disney’s Going Wild with Jeff Corwin; Investigation Earth with the Discovery Networks; NBC’s Jeff Corwin Unleashed, and the Travel Channel’s Into Alaska and Into the American West. Jeff powerful book and MSNBC documentary 100 Heartbeats investigate the plight of our planet’s most endangered wildlife species along with the conservation heroes trying to save them. He is presently the correspondent for science and the environment for MSNBC and host of Extreme Cuisine with Jeff Corwin on the Food Network. His latest endeavor is Ocean Mysteries, which is a television series focusing on our planets oceans and marine species. It begins broadcasting on ABC this fall. Mr. Corwin is a member of Defenders’ executive board of directors.