Although many of her Republican colleagues likely would disagree, Jaime Herrera Beutler made the correct vote Wednesday when she helped restore funding to allow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to continue listing new threatened and endangered species. The freshman U.S. representative of the 3rd Congressional District and 36 others broke from their Republican ranks and joined Democrats in approving an amendment to an Interior Department spending bill.
The amendment removed language from the bill that would have erased funding for protecting new animal and plant species under the Endangered Species Act. Funding for delisting species would have continued.
Other members of the Northwest delegation who deserve praise for this action are U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, and U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., who crossed the aisle to help the amendment pass 224-202.
The Columbian has continually praised the Endangered Species Act because of its function that was astutely described by Herrera Beutler in a statement after her vote: “Congress must make balanced decisions to protect species from irreversible extinction.” Those last two words, necessarily redundant, describe in a nutshell what’s going on here. Irreversible loss of animals and plants by humans simply cannot be allowed by any uncaring Congress.
We also have acknowledged that the Endangered Species Act is imperfect and subject to refinement. Three years ago we editorialized that the 38-year-old act “is cumbersome, and protective lists are difficult to update efficiently.” Herrera Beutler essentially said the same thing in her statement, noting that the act “needs to be reviewed by Congress to make sure federal agencies are using the best science in the species listing decisions.” Correct, but she also pointed out that “completely prohibiting the listing of new species as endangered was not the right approach.”
We would like to believe that — for this one vote — Herrera Beutler saw herself not as a member of any political party but as a representative of the Pacific Northwest. That would be pure speculation, though. But it doesn’t matter. Her vote effectively acknowledged the success of the ESA, much of it here in this region.
Consider the bald eagle. Listed as endangered in 1976 when it had declined to 417 pairs in the lower 48 states, the bald eagle was reclassified as threatened in 1995 and removed from that list in 2007. Many thousands of breeding pairs had been counted, including several nesting pairs in the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, plus about 30 that visit during migration.
Consider also the Puget Sound orcas, still on the list and believed to number fewer than 100. More than two dozen species of salmon and steelhead are still on the list, including a dozen or so in the Columbia River Basin.
Back to the success stories: The Yellowstone grizzly was delisted in 2007. No longer endangered are peregrine falcons and gray whales. And significant progress has been seen in rebounding populations of whooping cranes, gray wolves and sea otters.
To our knowledge, none of these animals is either a Republican or a Democrat. But they’re all dependent on Congress — now or in the past — making the right decisions. One of those correct calls came in the House last week, thanks in part to Herrera Beutler.