Monday is the deadline for comments on proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act. Conservation advocates gathered Wednesday at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo to voice their concerns. They say the federal law is under attack and that the proposed changes would gut it.
Standing in front of the zoo’s lush Grizzly Bear exhibit, Woodland Park President and CEO Alejandro Grajal gave the example of possibly adding economic impact studies to the analysis required when listing species. He said bringing these additional values into evaluations of proposed listings would be a mistake.
“The absolute need for the protection will be diluted by other interests that are not based in science. And we should be taking these decisions based on science,” he said.
He called the animals in captive rearing programs such as Woodland Park's grizzlies "ambassadors" who capture our hearts and minds, but noted they cannot speak or lobby for themselves.
UW College of the Environment Dean and Woodland Park Zoo Board Member Lisa Graumlich joined him, voicing concern about a provision that would leave climate science out of the equation when listing new species for protection.
“One of the key regulatory changes that is being proposed is to ignore the projections we have of climate change that are based on robust science, done by myself and my colleagues, literally for decades,” Graumlich said.
As an example of a species that could lose out on protections if the changes go through, she noted the rapidly shrinking population of wolverines in the state, which depend heavily on snowpack for their survival.
Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal from Seattle echoed Graumlich’s concerns about climate science and cited a proposal to shrink the critical habitat that could be set aside for endangered wildlife, to provide a road to recovery.
"And so together, we’re talking about a set of changes that would dramatically weaken a bipartisan, publicly supported Act,” Jayapal said, vowing to continue work on protecting the Act in Congress, as a "proud member of the Endangered Species Act Caucus."
She says it has broad public support. And 99 percent of the species listed under the law have been kept from extinction.
The Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973 with a nearly unanimous vote and signed into law by Republican President Richard Nixon.
Proponents of the changes say it needs an overhaul and the amendments would result in more effective decisions and lessen burdens on landowners and businesses.
Some point to the slow rate of de-listing as an indicator that the law is not working, with a success rate between 1 -3 percent, depending on how it's calculated.
Others counter that species recovery is by nature a long-term effort and that about as many species have come off the list in the past 5 years (21) as in the prior 35 years.
Among the 48 species listed under the law in Washington State are grizzly bears like the ones at Woodland Park Zoo, Canada Lynx, Northern spotted owls, marbled murrelets, southern resident orca whales, nine runs of salmon and twelve plants.
Jayapal is calling on the public to join the zoo in urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to rescind the proposed rule changes. The Seattle zoo has collected more than 9,000 signatures so far. Tacoma’s Point Defiance Zoo and the Northwest Trek Wildlife Park both have similar campaigns underway.