House GOP Targets Manatees, Sea Turtles, Prairie Chickens

You're looking at the latest threat to American freedom.

We already know that the Tea Party-powered House has been working hard to derail several decades of environmental accomplishments.  You’ve probably heard that the debt ceiling deal not only cut holes in the social safety net, but also defunded environmental protection.

HR 2584, the Interior and environmental appropriations bill, continues this trend. The bill’s title shows its real purpose. It’s not called the Funding the Interior Department Act or anything like that; no, it’s the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2011. Among those burdens are the usual scourges of liberty–the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.

But there are also some surprising culprits: Sea turtles, manatees, and dunes sagebrush lizards, for example. These seemingly innocent creatures are apparently part of the sinister big-government scheme that the GOP is on a mission to thwart.

You can laugh, but I’m only half joking. Take a look at some HR 2584 amendments reported by Defenders of Wildlife  (and if that’s not enough for you, Rep. Jim Moran and Mother Jones have lists of anti-environment riders on the bill).

  • Representative Steve Pearce (NM) has introduced an amendment to end lobo recovery efforts, essentially dooming the 50 remaining Mexican gray wolves in the wild to extinction.
  • Representative Blake Farenthold (TX) has proposed blocking efforts to reduce the speed limits on beaches where threatened and endangered sea turtles nest.
  • Boat strikes are one of the leading causes of death for Florida’s threatened manatees, but Representative Richard Nugent (FL) wants to block a Fish and Wildlife Service rule to prevent boat collisions with these gentle sea cows.
  • Representative Jeff Denham (CA) has introduced an amendment to block restoration of salmon in the San Joaquin River.
  • Representatives Pearce and Randy Neugebauer (TX) are fighting to prohibit Endangered Species Act protections for lesser prairie chickens and dunes sagebrush lizards.
  • Representatives Paul Gosar (AZ) and Rob Bishop (UT) have proposed amendments that would exempt the border patrol from laws and regulations that protect imperiled wildlife and federal conservation lands like our national parks and wildlife refuges.
I know that predatory animals aren’t very popular among the ecologically-unconcerned. In an extreme case, Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association argued that grizzly bears should be eradicated and that Tilikum, the Sea World orca who killed his trainer, should be stoned. And on a more mainstream level, ranchers have always harbored a resentment toward wolves.
But manatees? What harm have they ever caused? Edna Mattos, leader of the Citrus County Tea Party Patriots in Florida, lent some insight in the St. Petersburg Times:

“We cannot elevate nature above people. That’s against the Bible and the Bill of Rights.”

The Florida Tea Partiers took issue with sea cows when the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to make Kings Bay a wildlife refuge. Parts of the bay have been protected since 1980, and the FWS says that the current population of 550 manatees needs more space. But the Patriots aren’t falling for that garbage.

“We believe that [federal regulators’] aim is to control the fish and wildlife, in addition to the use of the land that surrounds this area, and the people that live here and visit.”

So I guess that explains Rep. Nugent’s amendment (he was elected by these people, after all). But what about the other assaults on wildlife? Normally, the argument for axing regulations is that regulations kill jobs. How does that philosophy apply to sea turtles and lesser prairie chickens? That’s hard to say. If you go to work one day and find that a prairie chicken has taken over your job, let me know. Same goes for when your new boss has flippers and smells like seaweed.

All these anti-wildlife amendments have two things in common (besides being ridiculous). They would all have serious consequences, yet they would not do anything meaningful to reduce the deficit or create jobs. Although the proposals may be laughable, their authors are dead serious. But they need your votes to keep their agenda rolling.

When election season comes, remember the manatees.


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