by Max Brantley
Today’s hearing comes after Rep. Hastings (R-Wash.) and his ultraconservative supporters in the House introduced four bills that would not only weaken the power of the Endangered Species Act to save the nation’s most imperiled plants and animals but would purposefully undercut the power of citizens to help enforce the law that has prevented the extinction of 99 percent of the plants and animals it protects.
“The American public overwhelmingly supports protecting endangered species,” said Greenwald. “Protecting habitat for southeastern mussels helps us all by saving the rivers that are a source of drinking water, food and enjoyment. What these extremist politicians are telling us is that they couldn’t care less about the health of the water shared by the wildlife, plants and citizens of the Southeast.”
The Neosho mucket and rabbitsfoot mussels have been extirpated from almost two-thirds of their historic ranges. Since first being identified as imperiled, the Neosho mussel has disappeared from two more rivers systems.
The Southeast is home to more species of freshwater animals than any comparable area, including 493 fishes (62 percent of U.S. fish species), at least 269 mussels (91 percent of U.S. mussel species), and 241 dragonflies and damselflies (48 percent of all those in North America). The Southeast also contains more than two-thirds of North America’s species of crayfishes and more amphibians and aquatic reptiles than any other region.
The Southeast’s staggering variety of freshwater life forms and their habitat also make up one of the most imperiled ecosystems on the planet. Water pollution, development, logging, poor agricultural practices, dams, mining, invasive species and other threats have caused more than 50 species to go extinct in the region and a similar fate is looming for more than 28 percent of the region’s fishes, more than 48 percent of its crayfishes and more than 70 percent of its mussels. The majority of imperiled aquatic species in the Southeast are not protected by the Endangered Species Act or any other law.
“Given that one of the world’s great extinction crises is happening right in front of our eyes, the Republican Party’s hostility to common-sense habitat protections for these mussel species is a sorry testament to its out-of-touchness. These are protections that, without a doubt, will help get not only the mussels but also our rivers on the road to recovery,” said Greenwald.