President Joe Biden vetoed resolutions on Tuesday that would have stripped protections from the endangered lesser prairie chicken in New Mexico as well as a bat found in the eastern United States.
Congress, led by Republican lawmakers, passed the resolutions in an attempt to remove the endangered and threatened species protections from the lesser prairie chicken as well as the northern long-eared bat.
The lesser prairie chicken received protections under the Endangered Species Act earlier this year.
“The final rule, issued by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), provides Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections to an American bird species whose historical habitat on the Great Plains has diminished by approximately 90 percent and whose populations have plummeted toward disappearance,” Biden wrote in his veto message regarding the lesser prairie chicken.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has divided the lesser prairie chicken into two distinct population segments. The southern population, which is found in New Mexico, is classified as endangered, while the northern population is classified as threatened.
Biden said these classifications came following rigorous scientific review and that the rule that classified the bird as threatened and endangered “affirms and protects locally led and crafted voluntary conservation agreements that landowners and land managers have developed in recent years, which provide certainty for industry as well as safeguards for prairie-chicken populations.”
He said the senate joint resolution that sought to remove the protections from the bird would overturn a science-based rulemaking and undermine the Endangered Species Act.
“The lesser prairie-chicken serves as an indicator for healthy grasslands and prairies, making the species an important measure of the overall health of America’s grasslands,” Biden said.
Biden’s vetoes of the resolutions garnered praise from environmental advocacy groups that have been pushing for protections for the animals.
Defenders of Wildlife stated that the resolutions Biden vetoed are among more than three dozen attempts that this Congress has made to “undermine the Endangered Species Act.” Those attempts include another resolution that sought to prevent any population of lesser prairie chicken from being listed as threatened or endangered. Another one of the efforts, according to the Defenders of Wildlife, was a House resolution that would have required consideration of the economic impacts that listing a species as threatened or endangered could have.
Another resolution seeks to require the Fish and Wildlife Service to withdraw a proposed rule listing the dunes sagebrush lizard, which is found in New Mexico, as endangered.
“If President Biden had not acted today to protect the Endangered Species Act, these measures would have significantly increased the risk of extinction for the gravely imperiled Lesser prairie chicken and long-eared bat. We are grateful for the President’s continued commitment to species protection but remain greatly troubled that his veto is the only thing standing between grossly misguided anti-wildlife Members of Congress and the future of wildlife,” Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, said in a press release. “The American public, regardless of party affiliation, overwhelmingly supports the Endangered Species Act and believes it should be fully funded to protect species from extinction. Congress needs to wake up to this fact and cease their continual attacks.”
The Southern Environmental Law Center also praised the vetoes, which the nonprofit’s wildlife program leader Ramona McGee described as efforts to “prevent necessary conservation efforts in an attempt to please developers.”
“This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act. For half a century we’ve learned employing the best available science to conserve threatened species works. The ESA is credited with saving 99 percent of listed species from extinction,” she said in a statement.
Bradley Williams, the Sierra Club’s associate director of legislative and administrative advocacy for wildlife and lands protection, said Biden made the right call in vetoing the resolutions. Williams said protecting biodiversity is a key part of addressing climate change.
“Nearly 50 years after it was passed with overwhelming majorities, anti-wildlife legislators are still seeking to undermine the Endangered Species Act,” Williams said in a press release. “We are in the midst of a mass extinction crisis, and we should be strengthening the ESA, not undercutting it. We urge President Biden to continue to defend this bedrock environmental law and ensure vulnerable species remain protected.”