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Talking about the ESA with Sen. King’s and Sen. Collins’ Staff

On September 5, Coastal Bird Project Director Laura Minich Zitske and I, along with a few allies in the environmental advocacy community, met with staff members from Senator Collins’ and Senator King’s offices in Portland and Scarborough, respectively. As Maine Audubon members and supporters are well aware, Congressional and administrative threats to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) keep stacking up, and we wanted to make sure our representatives in D.C. were up to date and ready to take action.

We also wanted to pass along a letter from approximately 500 of our organizations’ members and supporters (PDF), urging the Senators (as well as Representatives Poliquin and Pingree) to oppose the numerous threats in Congress that would weaken or undermine the ESA. Thank you to everyone who signed on to this important letter. By signing your name, you put our representatives on notice that their constituents are paying attention to their votes and actions related to the ESA.

During our meeting with Senator Collins’ staff, Tara Thorton, Program Director for the Endangered Species Coalition, brought everyone up to speed on Congressional threats to the ESA. She was happy to report, for example, that the Senate version of the Farm Bill was free of riders that would undermine that ESA. The same can’t be said for the House version of the Farm bill, which (among other harmful riders) contains a “poison pollinator provision” that would exempt pesticide registrations from key requirements to protect imperiled species under the ESA.

Landis Hudson, Executive Director of Maine Rivers, shared her experience working on projects to restore Atlantic salmon populations, explaining that protections for species listed under the ESA benefit a host of other species, including other migratory fish such as alewives and sturgeon. Our Laura Minich Zitske shared her work to protect Piping Plovers, as well as a request that the Senator help us correct the record on the ESA; in Laura’s experience, landowners with endangered species do not feel burdened by the law — in fact, they celebrate it. Finally, Kristin Jackson, Federal Project Outreach Coordinator from the Natural Resources Council of Maine, shared opinion pieces from Maine residents about why they support the ESA. We were grateful for Senator Collins’ staffs’ time and attention.

When we met with Senator King’s staff, we quickly got into the nitty gritty on what Maine Audubon estimates is the biggest threat to the ESA: The Trump Administration’s proposed rule changes, which would dramatically weaken the ESA.

We shared with staff that despite the ESA’s successful track record of preventing extinction, the Interior and Commerce Departments have proposed rule changes that would gut the law as we know it. The proposed changes would:

  • Make it difficult to extend protections to threatened species by creating extraneous bureaucratic hurdles.
  • Require economic factors be considered when deciding whether to list a species, distracting from the law’s reliance on scientific evidence.
  • Make it harder to designate critical habitat, a crucial tool for protecting and restoring species.
  • Essentially exempt climate change as a factor when considering whether to list a species.

Senator King’s staffers were all ears and were thankful for Maine Audubon’s and the Natural Resources Council of Maine’s detailed analysis of the proposed rule changes. While the Senator won’t have an opportunity to “vote” on the rules, we encouraged his staff to consider opportunities to weigh in on the rulemaking by sharing the ESA’s success in Maine.

We also asked that he consider submitting comments — and we have asked our members to do the same. The Departments are accepting public comments on these disastrous rules until September 24 (Dockets FWS-HQ-ES-2018-0009, FWS-HQ-ES-2018-0006, and FWS-HQ-ES-2018-0007).

If you’d like to submit a comment, you can do so through our website. The Federal eRulemaking Portal is notoriously hard to navigate and can be unreliable. Maine Audubon will deliver hard copies of all comments submitted through our form to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in accordance with federal rule. The comment period will end on September 24, so don’t delay.

We’re grateful to Maine’s Senators for taking the time to learn and understand the threats to the Endangered Species Act. Maine Audubon and our allies will continue to work with Maine’s representatives — and with you — to combat threats to laws that protect Maine’s wildlife and habitat.