Thanks to its misleading name, the Native Species Protection Act, which was introduced to the Senate this week, appears to be a positive environmental initiative…but that couldn't be further from the truth.
The bill was introduced to the Senate on Tuesday by Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and would allow states to manage species that exist entirely within their border.
While the bill may sound harmless, it would necessarily strip federal Endangered Species Act protections for animals and plants endemic to a state. The repercussion of such an act would be devastating as "intrastate species" make up the majority of the 1,655 species currently protected under the federal act.
Despite the fact that 9 out of 10 Americans support the Endangered Species Act and want it strengthened or unchanged by Congress, Republicans in Congress have attempted 47 legislative attacks against the act or specific endangered species since January.
Still, the Utah Senators who introduced the new bill believe the Endangered Species Act is in serious need of reform.
"In the nearly fifty years since it was signed into law, the ESA has done more to impede economic activity, obstruct local conservation efforts, and give federal bureaucrats regulatory control over private property, than it has done to protect endangered species," said Senator Lee.
"The Native Species Protection Act is a commonsense reform that would limit the damage caused by federal mismanagement of protected species while empowering state and local officials to pursue sensible conservation plans with their communities."
The legislation is supported by extreme anti-wildlife organizations (yep, those exist) that specifically oppose the protection of the Utah prairie dog. In the state of Utah, many businesses and private property owners see the prairie dog not as an endangered native species but as a nuisance.
Senator Hatch believes the federal act is an "egregious" federal overreach that comes "often at great expense to taxpayers and inconvenience to property owners in Utah and throughout the West".
Yet the proposed alternative would reach far beyond the borders of Utah. Not only would the bill end protections for the prairie dog, it would also strip protections for all 1,098 intrastate species, including 497 species in Hawaii, 234 species in California, 86 species in Florida and 20 species in Utah.
"Utah's senators hate their prairie dogs so much they're willing to destroy most of America's endangered wildlife to wipe out this little animal," said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity.
"From the Florida panther to virtually all imperiled species in Hawaii, every one of these intrastate species would be condemned to extinction. Americans do not support this ludicrous proposal."
The introduced legislation specifically seeks to overturn a 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decision made earlier this year that confirmed the federal government does in fact have the authority to protect the Utah prairie dog.
The judge on the case, Republican appointed Jerome A. Holmes, concluded that removing protections for intrastate species would "leave a gaping hole" and "undercut the conservation purposes" of the Endangered Species Act.
Despite this decision, Senators Lee and Hatch are determined to get their legislation passed.
"Republicans continue to demonstrate that their calls to reform the Endangered Species Act are completely hollow," said Hartl.
"Instead of proposing ideas that help recover our most vulnerable wildlife they're eager to let America's iconic animals go extinct."