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This Week’s Creature Feature ... Political Animals

Endangered species squeeze through DC's budget war

Good news for the golden-winged warbler: Should its numbers continue to decline, it can be added to the endangered species list — for now.

Off limits to some members of Congress in the contentious budget war that’s been raging in Washington.
    In a Republican proposal, the Endangered Species Act would have been amended so that no new species — regardless of numbers — could be added to the threatened or endangered list. The bill would, however, allow species to be removed from the list.
    Republicans argued that the Endangered Species Act costs the government tens of millions of dollars in lawsuits filed by environmental advocacy groups seeking to have species listed as threatened or endangered.
    Washington Congressman Norman Dicks, a Democrat who sponsored an amendment to keep the Endangered Species Act intact, called the appropriations bill “an overreach motivated by ideology, not deficit reduction.”
    Members of the wild kingdom can breathe a sigh of relief. When the bill came to a vote in late July, a handful of Republicans crossed the aisle, Dicks’ amendment was approved, 224 to 220. The Endangered Species Act survived.
    The Endangered Species Act was signed by President Richard Nixon on December 28, 1973, to provide for “the conservation of species that are endangered or threatened throughout all or a significant portion of their range, and the conservation of the ecosystems on which they depend.”
    Under the Act, endangered means in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. Threatened means likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future. All species of plants and animals, except pest insects, are eligible.
    Close to 1,400 species in the United States are listed as threatened or endangered. Of those, 19 animals and six plants live in or around Maryland, including five species of sea turtles and three of whales, the Delmarva fox squirrel, the piping plover, the bog turtle — and the Maryland darter fish, said to be the world’s rarest fish.
    Not yet listed but possible candidates for the threatened or endangered species list are Maryland’s golden-winged warbler and three species of bats. If scientists determine the species are in danger, their names may be added to the list — and they would receive federal and state protection.
    At least through the budget year.