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U.S. House votes to remove gray wolf endangered species protections

Two loons swim with their chick on Clear Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in 2021.
Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer
Two loons swim with their chick on Clear Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in 2021.

The GOP-led chamber also voted to roll back a Biden administration plan to lease public land for conservation, and to block regulation of lead ammo or fishing gear.

The U.S. House approved four bills focused on natural resources and land management Tuesday, promoting a Republican message of dissatisfaction with the Biden administration’s approach to conservation.

The four bills would force the withdrawal of a recent Bureau of Land Management rule that would allow leases for conservation, remove mining restrictions near Minnesota’s Boundary Waters, delist the gray wolf from the Endangered Species Act and block federal bans on lead ammunition.

The bills passed with few members of each party crossing the aisle.

They are unlikely to become law — or even receive a vote in the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate — but their passage is an election-year message that Republicans support extractive industries in rural communities and oppose what they describe as an overreaching environmental agenda.

“Whether it’s the new BLM rule that fundamentally threatens the western way of life, or the decision to lock up enormous deposits of increasingly scarce minerals, it’s clear Biden and his bureaucrats have no interest in properly stewarding our federal lands or listening to local stakeholders,” House Natural Resources Chairman Bruce Westerman, an Arkansas Republican, said in a statement following the votes.

Democrats blasted the bills, saying they were ideological rather than practical.

“The entire House schedule this week misses the mark,” California Democrat Jared Huffman said. “It elevates right-wing ideology over the actual needs of the American people.”

Huffman managed Democratic speakers during much of Tuesday’s floor debate in place of House Natural Resources ranking Democrat Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, who announced a cancer diagnosis last month.

Biden has signaled strong opposition to the bills.

Conservation leases

The House voted 212-202 to pass Utah Republican John Curtis’ bill to withdraw the recent BLM rule. Democrats Henry Cuellar of Texas, Jared Golden of Maine and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez of Washington voted yes, along with all Republicans except for Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania.

The rule creates a new type of lease for conservation, putting it on the same level as extractive industries like mining, energy development and livestock grazing.

Republicans have vocally opposed it since it was first proposed last year, saying it upends the agency’s decades-long multiple-use framework.

BLM lands should be reserved for productive uses, several House Republicans said Tuesday.

“Conservation is not a use,” Westerman said on the House floor Tuesday. “It’s a value and an outcome that can be generated by the uses” that are already in place on BLM lands.

Democrats said the rule did not block any other use, but simply elevated conservation, which they said was an important consideration.

“The rule will protect clean water, clean air and wildlife habitat,” Colorado Democrat Joe Neguse said. “It’ll promote the restoration of degraded landscapes. It will ensure that decisions are based on the best available science and collaboration with tribal, local and rural communities.

“But here is what the bill does not do,” he added. “It does not disallow or preclude any one of the multiple uses that the chairman referenced during the opening of this particular debate.”

Boundary Waters

The House passed, 212-203, a bill to rescind an administration ban on mining operations near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Northern Minnesota. Golden and Perez voted in favor along with all Republicans.

Pete Stauber, the representative from the area who introduced the measure, said it would promote the economy of the mineral-rich region.

Stauber, a Republican who chairs a mining subcommittee, criticized the Biden administration’s approach to extractive industries. Boosting domestic mining would give U.S. policymakers more control over environmental and labor protections than importing critical minerals from overseas.

“Biden’s mining policy of anywhere but America, any worker but American must be stopped,” Stauber said. “We can find these minerals domestically under the best labor and environmental standards in the world. We know this all too well in Northern Minnesota, where mining is our past, our present and our future.”

Democrats objected to the bill, saying it endangered the Boundary Waters separating Minnesota from Canada. The wilderness area is a beloved destination for many in the state.

“This piece of legislation would revoke key protections for a watershed that contains some of the purest, freshest water in the nation, in the world,” Minnesota Democrat Betty McCollum said.

Gray wolf 

The House voted 209-205 to pass a bill authored by Colorado Republican Lauren Boebert that would remove the gray wolf from the federal endangered species list.

Republicans Fitzpatrick, Matt Gaetz of Florida, Mike Garcia of California and Nancy Mace of South Carolina voted against the bill. Democrats Yadira Caraveo of Colorado, Cuellar, Golden and Perez voted in favor.

Under the bill, states would be empowered to manage wolf populations, Boebert said on the House floor.

During floor debate, Republicans said wolves have fully recovered and no longer needed federal protections. They also said the predators were a nuisance to livestock and the ranchers whose livelihoods depend on cattle and sheep.

“I stand here today celebrating the success story of the Endangered Species Act, seeing that the gray wolf has been fully recovered,” Boebert said. “I also stand today … in defense of our farmers and our ranchers.”

Democrats argued that while gray wolves’ numbers have increased, they are still in danger of extinction if federal protections were to disappear.

Virginia Democrat Don Beyer noted that states such as Montana, Wyoming and Idaho that have delisted wolves saw overhunting.

“We’re in the midst of a biodiversity crisis,” Beyer said. “We should be supporting current scientific efforts by fully funding the agencies that carry out ESA extinction preservation work.”

Beyer also took a veiled shot at South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican who described in a recently published memoir killing her 14-month-old hunting dog in a gravel pit.

Dogs kill twice as many cattle as wolves, Beyer said.

“Yet we don’t say that all good dogs should go to the gravel pit,” he said.

Lead bullets

The House also passed, 214-201, a bill sponsored by Virginia Republican Rob Wittman to block the Department of Agriculture and Department of Interior from regulating the use of lead ammunition or lead fishing equipment on federal lands or waters.

Republicans Fitzpatrick, Gatez and Vern Buchanan of Florida voted against it.

Democrats Cuellar, Donald Davis of North Carolina, Robert Garcia of California, Golden, Vicente Gonzalez of Texas, Mary Peltola of Alaska and Perez voted in favor.

Each side accused the other of indulging special interests on the issue.

Democrats said Republicans were more concerned about blocking regulations on guns than promoting hunting and fishing.

“When it comes to guns, and now ammo, any type of restriction is too much for Republican ideology,” Huffman said.

Westerman said the bill “probably is more aimed at” fending off “any kind of attack they can take on our Second Amendment rights,” but said that Democrats’ opposition was due to their loyalty to extreme environmentalists.

“Manage these lands for the public, not for your special interest, radical environmental groups,” he said. “I think Congress has to take the lead on that.”

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