Republican U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell of New Mexico sought to protect industries like oil and gas via a recent bill from what she said were threats posed by federal protections for plant and animal species nearing extinction.
Herrell worried critical habitat designations could impose undue burden on industry and thus threaten local and state economies. Critical habitat designations are designed to protect areas where threatened or endangered species either live or could inhabit, restricting development in including use for oil and gas operations.
Herrell represents the state’s rural Second Congressional District, spanning most of the southern half of New Mexico which is known for oil and gas and agriculture activities.
But the region is also home to several species like the lesser prairie chicken and dunes sagebrush lizard in southeast New Mexico. The dunes sagebrush lizard was labeled imperiled but not yet listed as either threatened or endangered under the ESA. The lesser prairie chicken is proposed for listing under the ESA.
There’s also the meadow jumping mouse and Mexican spotted owl in Lincoln National Forest. The meadow jumping mouse is protected under the ESA while the Mexican spotted owl is protected only by a U.S. Forest management agreement plan.
Efforts to protect these animals should not sacrifice necessary local industry, Herrell said, and she hoped to codify into law a rule enacted by the administration of former-President Donald Trump allowing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to exclude areas from habitat designations based on their potential economic impact.
Her bill was co-sponsored by a group of Republican congresspeople from Arkansas, Texas and Arizona.
“New Mexico has become ground zero for extreme applications of the Endangered Species Act (ESA),” Herrell said. “From the Mexican Spotted Owl to the Lesser Prairie Chicken, ESA designations are impacting some of our state’s most important industries and have crushed others.”
She argued the designations could cost New Mexican jobs and Congress must act to prevent further economic damage brought on by conservation decisions.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service must be allowed to take into account these economic impacts when deciding what land will be the most restricted for use and designated as critical habitat,” Herrell said. “Without this discretion, jobs will be lost and our way of life in Southern New Mexico will be under threat.”
Herrell’s bill clashes with Biden’s proposal
The legislation came as President Joe Biden and his administration announced a series of reforms to the ESA, including rescinding the rule Herrell sought to codify.
A proposed rule published Wednesday in the Federal Register by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would, if approved, align the ESA with an executive order issued by Biden in January calling on federal agencies to revisit policy decisions made during the Trump administration.
In addition to removing the economic impact requirement, the Service also proposed removing a Trump-era rule that only allowed critical habitat designations for areas where protected species were known to dwell.
Environmental groups argued this rule would stymie population growth and range expansions by not allowing protection for areas a species could migrate to as it recovers.
Santa Fe-based WildEarth Guardians sued the Trump administration along with a coalition of environmental groups earlier this year over its regulations, arguing they were inconsistent with the requirements of the ESA.
Joe Bushyhead, the group’s endangered species policy advocate said Biden’s planned revision of the rules was a step toward undoing environmental damage he said was caused by the Trump administration.
“In the midst of an extinction crisis, we’re glad to see the Biden administration restore important protections for imperiled wildlife,” said Joe Bushyhead, endangered species policy advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “Critical habitat designation provides one of the most effective tools for preventing species from going extinct.”
Other groups were critical of the Biden administration’s efforts to conserve endangered species, after the Fish and Wildlife Service last week declared 23 species extinct.
The Center for Biological Diversity contended the administration missed deadlines for decision making on 66 species, including 12 month findings for the Rio Grande river cooter, glowing Indian paintbrush and Great Basin silverspot in New Mexico.
The Service publishes 12-month findings to propose whether a species is listed, following a petition to do so.
Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center said delaying the process could lead to further damage to the species and called on the Biden administration to hasten the process.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service’s process for listing species is just too slow to address the extinction crisis, and Biden officials need to speed things up,” he said. “If the Service can’t streamline its decision-making and follow its own workplan, we’re going to lose more plants and animals to extinction.”
To provide more federal funds in hopes of increasing species conservation, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich recently introduced the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA), which would earmark $1.3 billion in federal funds each year for conservation.
The bill would also provide $97.5 million annually to Tribal nations for conservation on about 140 million acres of land, and require federal efforts follow State Wildlife Action Plans.
It would also direct revenue from fees and penalties from environmental violations to support the bill’s programs.
The RAWA was co-sponsored by Republican U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, and was supported by the rest of New Mexico’s Democrat congresspeople in the House and Senate.
“Protecting America’s fish and wildlife habitat means conserving the creatures we love before they ever become imperiled,” Heinrich said. “After all, our children deserve to inherit the full breadth of American wildlife, from bumble bees to bison, that we know today. This legislation will make that possible.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.