A recent rider to the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act blocks the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from listing the greater sage-grouse under ESA protection for 10 years. The bird continues to decline toward extinction. ©Eric Rock

Just a few months ago, in summer 2015, there were hopeful headlines for the Endangered Species Act (ESA). A new poll had been released that showed that nine out of every 10 American voters supported it.

But another recent survey flies in the face of this good news. Right now, there are more than 80 stand-alone bills, anti-Endangered Species Act riders and other anti-wildlife amendments under consideration in Congress. Undoubtedly, if these measures are passed, this could be the most anti-conservation Congress ever in our nation’s history.

But if the new poll shows that the majority of us are pro-wildlife, how could Congress be so unreflective of our wishes? Are our environmental beliefs and concerns being left behind when we enter the voting booth and choose who we want to represent us?

Placed under ESA protection in 1975, Yellowstone National Park grizzly bear’s tripled their population numbers. ©Eric Rock

The survey says . . . .

The summer 2015 national poll was conducted by Tulchin Research and commissioned by Defenders of Wildlife and Earthjustice. From June 25 to 29, 2015, Tulchin polled a representative sample of 600 registered voters across the United States (the margin of error for this survey is +/- 4 percentage points). The results showed that nine out of every 10 voters (90 percent of us) support maintaining the Endangered Species Act. It also found that 71 percent of us believe that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists—not members of Congress—should make decisions about which species are protected by the ESA.

In addition, the researchers found that nearly seven in 10 voters (68 percent) say they are more likely to vote for a member of Congress who supports environmental safeguards, such as the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. According to the report, “This overwhelming support for the Endangered Species Act extends across the country and across gender, age and ethnic lines.”

For me, however, this last bit is the most interesting: “Most notably, in today’s highly polarized political environment, support for the Endangered Species Act also spans the political spectrum, with the law being backed by overwhelming majorities of self-identified liberals (96 percent support), moderates (94 percent) and conservatives (82 percent).”

Wolverines face the challenges of climate change, habitat loss and fragmentation, and some hunting. The wolverine is proposed for listing under the Endangered Species Act as threatened. ©Eric Rock

So why are there so many anti-Endangered Species Act members of Congress?

The act’s accounting

Some think the reason for the prevailing sentiment in Congress is that people may be voting without taking the time to understand the environmental stances of their candidates of choice. Others say that once in the voting booth, people put alternative concerns—such as the economy, social issues and partisan allegiances—before their worries about the conservation of our planet. Or it could be that members of Congress, once elected, listen to Big Oil and other special interests rather than the American public.

For their part, several members of Congress have used the often-mentioned 2 percent recovery rate for listed species under the Endangered Species Act as a reason to do away with it. Senator Dean Heller, R-Nev., is one. His bill, the Common Sense in Species Protection Act of 2015 would block habitat protections for critical species if economic benefits were believed to exceed those of wildlife protection. And Senator Rand Paul’s, R-Ky., bill would allow state governors to take over the regulation of any endangered species whose range is limited within the boundaries of just one state, banning federal protection for those species. More than half of all listed U.S. species, including all of them listed in Hawaii, would fall under this exception and could thus lose federal protection.

Lately, we don’t seem to be voting in a way that reflects our beliefs and conscience. ©Eric Rock

Environmentalists would argue, however, that the Endangered Species Act’s measure of success shouldn’t be recovery. It should be intent, which is to prevent extinction. By that yardstick, the ESA has been incredibly successful. Ninety-nine percent of the species that have been put on the ESA list are still around.

Conscience and constituents

In 1973, the Endangered Species Act was passed with nearly unanimous public and bipartisan Congressional support. While we, the people, have maintained our constant approval and endorsement, it seems Congress has backed away. I want you to understand that I don’t mean to indict any one political party; I question why we don’t seem to be voting in a manner that corresponds with our beliefs and conscience.

Do you think the new poll is proof that members of Congress are vastly out of step with constituents? If so, is that our fault or the shortcoming of those we elect? If 90 percent of us support maintaining the Endangered Species Act, why do we continue to vote for those who are anti-environment?

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,