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Earth to Congress: Birds need help!

The federal government is not able to list the Greater Sage-Grouse as threatened or endangered due to an ongoing exemption passed by Congress. Photo by Danita Delimont/Shutterstock

Last week, Congress passed its budget bill for fiscal year 2022. Reading through the details, I had to wonder what planet members of Congress think they’re living on. Are they not aware of the twin emergencies of climate change and the extinction crisis?

The Democratic-controlled Congress gave modest increases to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior, but both amounts were far less than the Biden administration requested.

As the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) noted, the nation’s 1,800 endangered species received a total increase of $3 million, or about $1,600 per species. Funding to address the 400 species still waiting for protection is frozen at last year’s level. And yet again, Congress kept a rider in the budget that prevents the government from listing the Greater Sage-Grouse under the Endangered Species Act, even as the bird continues its slide toward extinction.

Steve Holmer, vice president of policy at American Bird Conservancy, decried the exemption: “This harmful policy rider in place since 2014 has contributed to the sage-grouse’s decline by allowing for a free-for-all of development in priority sagebrush habitat.”

“Now, the only realistic chance of saving the sage-grouse rests with land management agencies who we hope will see the importance of protecting this and the 350 other species that inhabit the sagebrush sea,” said Greta Anderson, deputy director of Western Watersheds Project. “We certainly hope that the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service will step up where Congress has failed.” 


‘Incredibly disappointed’

“Many of the [Interior Department] programs fell woefully short of the president’s budget request,” says Stephanie Kurose, senior endangered species policy specialist at CBD. “For example, Biden requested $578 million for refuges, $7.9 million for neotropical birds, and $82 million for State and Tribal Wildlife Grants. We were optimistic that Congress would, at the very minimum, provide funding that matched the president’s request, but instead the FY22 budget undercut many of these programs, some significantly (refuges were only funded at $519 million).

“Funding for the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act remained frozen at $5 million – or just $14,000 per migratory bird species – which is wholly insufficient to reverse the conservation trend of even one species of migratory bird,” she adds. “Overall, the FY22 omnibus represents a huge missed opportunity and one of the last opportunities this year to make bold investments in our natural heritage. We were incredibly disappointed.”

The State and Tribal Wildlife Grants Program, which is an important source of funding for wildlife programs operated by state and tribal governments, received $72.6 million, nearly $10 million less than what Biden requested. 


Other serious flaws noted by CBD: The EPA can’t deal with emissions from the livestock industry. The Forest Service will receive even more funding for harmful commercial logging, while the Bureau of Land Management gets an additional $15 million for fossil fuel development on public lands. More than $1 billion in funding remains in place to build border walls, ensuring that many more miles of borderlands — critical habitat for wildlife — are irreparably harmed by wall construction.

In addition, the bill prevents federal agencies from regulating the use of lead ammunition, despite a recent scientific paper concluding that nearly half of America’s Bald and Golden Eagles continue to be poisoned every year by lead ammunition.

Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the CBD, summed up the sad state of affairs: “Budgets are a reflection of our values, and this one clearly shows the environment is just not important to far too many politicians.”


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Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall is the editor of BirdWatching magazine and You can reach him at [email protected].

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