and Downs in 2003
In December, Congress closed its doors on a year that saw some environmental victories-and some disasters. By the slimmest of margins in the U.S. Senate, once again pro-drilling interests lost in their rabid attempts to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling. This is a temporary and tenuous victory because there is no question they will try again.
A more solid victory came with a $10 million increase in Wildlife Grant funds that will provide states, including New Jersey, with the resources they critically need for effective bird and wildlife conservation and restoration efforts. And Congress allotted $4 million for FY2004 for the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act-the program's first major increase.
In a stunning turnabout in mid-December, EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced they would drop plans to remove federal protection for so-called "isolated" wetlands. This action can clearly be attributed to comments received from thousands of activists who demanded they not remove protections that have been in place under the Clean Water Act for over 30 years!
Other victories include a $24 million increase for National Wildlife Refuge operation and maintenance; $11.5 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund under the Interior Appropriations Bill; funding to control invasive species; $170 million in FY2004 funding for the Everglades, including $45 million for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.
Unfortunately, there was also an environmental dark side to Congress and the Administration in 2003. Some special interests on Capitol Hill got their way, not always in the full light of day. The list of losses include the forest-fire prevention initiative that favors the timber industry but fails to protect communities near the forests; a proposal that makes it difficult for citizens to challenge road building and logging plans in Alaska's Tongass National Forest; elimination of a 14-year moratorium on offshore drilling in the Bristol Bay in Western Alaska, an area renowned for its magnificent wildlife including bald eagles and puffins; granting the Department of Defense exemptions from adhering to portions of the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act; and more.
Speaking of the Endangered Species Act, whose 30th anniversary we celebrated in December, that revered legislation that has been so successful at halting the decline of wildlife and recovering imperiled species is under a new attack. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, at the behest of the Administration, has proposed regulatory changes to the ESA that would allow circuses, pet importers, and leather importers to promote the killing and capture of endangered species such as the hyacinth macaw and red siskin, the Asian elephant and many others. All endangered species, regardless their origin, are currently protected under the ESA by a policy that prohibits the importation of endangered species.
What you can do: It may not be too late to write to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and urge them not to go forward with the proposed change in the ESA. You can find an e-mail letter that you can edit by logging onto www.capitolconnect.com/audubon/
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