U.S. House & Senate Fails To Protect The Lesser Prairie-Chicken & Northern Long-Eared Bat Pushing Them Closer To Extinction

Photo Credits: Lesser Prairie-Chicken. Photo courtesy of Kansas State Research (CC BY 2.0), Northern long-eared bat. Photo courtesy of Al Hicks, USFWS

In a tragic pair of votes last week, the U.S House of Representatives pushed the Lesser prairie-chicken and the Northern long-eared bat closer to extinction by denying them urgently needed Endangered Species Act protections.

In a 220-209 vote on the Congressional Review Act (CRA) preventing uplisting the Northern long-eared bat from threatened to endangered under the Endangered Species Act, along with a 221-206 vote on the CRA preventing any protections for the Lesser prairie-chicken at all, the House joined the Senate in turning their back on these imperiled species. Their best hope for survival is for President Biden to use his veto power on these measures to save them.

“With one recent exception, this Congress has utterly failed the Endangered Species Act,” said Robert Dewey, vice president of government relations for Defenders of Wildlife. “Our nation’s strongest tool for preventing extinction of the wildlife we love and appreciate has been hamstrung with paltry funding for recovery for years. But never before have our elected leaders been so overtly hostile towards this life-saving law. Voting for accelerating extinction is a stain on our nation’s long legacy of conservation.”

“The fate of these imperiled species now lies with President Biden. We call on him to make good on his earlier promise to help rescue these species by vetoing these short-sighted measures,” Dewey continued.

Northern long-eared bat populations have plummeted 99% since the early-2000’s due to pressures from disease, habitat loss, and oil and gas drilling.

Lesser prairie-chickens are now only found on 10% of their former range and have experienced one of the most precipitous declines of any bird species in the U.S. The species has declined 97% from its historical numbers. From 2021 to 2022 alone, their populations declined by more than 20%; and, as of last year, only an estimated 27,000 birds remain. 

“We are increasingly alarmed by calls from anti-wildlife members of Congress to rewrite the Endangered Species Act even as they subvert science and politically delist species,” said Dewey. “The Endangered Species Act doesn’t need rewriting, it needs funding to fully function and a commitment from our elected leaders to follow best available science. We expect nothing less than a full gutting of this landmark and life-saving law should they get hold of it.”

The Congressional Review Act has never been used to overturn a listing decision under the Endangered Species Act and if President Biden does not veto, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would be prevented from issuing rules that are “substantially the same” without another act of Congress. The meaning of “substantially the same” is unclear, creating uncertainty in whether the agency would be able to reestablish protections if declines continue in the future.

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