Republican U.S. Senators Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee of Utah introduced a bill this week that would strip federal Endangered Species Act protections for animals and plants found in only one state. Such imperiled animals and plants make up the majority of the 1,655 species protected under the act.
The two Utah senators complained that the current law, which was signed by a Republican president, Richard Nixon, too often impedes commercial activity and allows federal bureaucrats too much control over private property rights. As a result of a contentious legal battle over the Utah prairie dog -- in which the Pacific Legal Foundation is arguing the feds have no jurisdiction over a species found in only one state -- the senators filed a bill to make that contention the law of the land.
They contend that because the federal government can’t claim any interstate commerce is involved, it therefore has no power over species that are not found in more than one state. Instead, their bill would put the states -- which usually have fewer resources and less money -- in charge of protecting those species.
Environmental groups are, of course, opposing the bill, noting that it would wipe out protection for hundreds of species overnight.
“From the Florida panther to virtually all imperiled species in Hawaii, every one of these intrastate species would be condemned to extinction,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Americans do not support this ludicrous proposal.”
Florida panthers have been on the endangered species list ever since the first such list was drawn up in 1967. While their population has grown from an estimated 20-30 in the early 1990s to more than 200 now, they are still classified as being in danger of extinction.
Other Florida animals on that first endangered list included alligators, which have rebounded to the point that they are no longer on the list The Endangered Species Act, which passed Congress backed by a bipartisan coalition of members, was co-written by a Florida man, Nathaniel Reed.