Washington, DC,
09:50 PM

For Immediate Release

Defense Bill Threatens Marine Mammals and Endangered Species With Catastrophic Harm


WASHINGTON  –The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) marked up the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which specifies the annual budget and expenditures of the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). The bill (H.R. 5515) includes several non-germane riders that threaten wildlife and habitat, including a provision to reduce protections for marine mammals and a provision to permanently withdraw refuge lands in the Desert National Wildlife Refuge for use by the U.S. Air Force, as well as provisions championed by Rep. Rob Bishop (UT-1st) that would threaten protections for sage-grouse, lesser prairie-chicken and the American burying beetle.

Statement from Defenders of Wildlife President and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark:

“Representative Bishop is shamelessly attempting to use the defense bill to launch a full-frontal attack on sage-grouse and other imperiled wildlife he doesn’t like, even though their habitat barely overlaps with military activity.

“The anti-wildlife provisions in the NDAA are scientifically unsound and irresponsible. Undermining protections for imperiled orcas, Right whales and other marine mammals and degrading conservation efforts on National Wildlife Refuge lands is harmful and unnecessary. The Endangered Species Act already balances the management of wildlife conservation and protection of cultural resources with military readiness. The riders in this bill seek to strip protections for wildlife and habitat across the country under the cover of military necessity.

“We thank our conservation champions who spoke out against these harmful provisions, and we call on the Senate Armed Services Committee to keep these reckless, unrelated riders attacking wildlife out of the discussion on the Senate bill.”


Background on Harmful Riders:

Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA): The House bill contains a provision that would extend the authorized period for permitting take of marine mammals by military readiness activities from five years to 10 years. Under current law, the military must review marine mammal take permits every five years, which ensures that the military uses up-to-date science and appropriate mitigation measures. During its most recent five-year review, the Navy estimated that it would kill more than 250 whales and other marine mammals; cause permanent injury, including lung and hearing damage to another 3,000; and disrupt foraging and other vital behavior more than 30 million times. Whales and dolphins are often killed in mass stranding events after being disoriented by sonar exercises, and explosives can cause marine mammals grievous injury and death. Given how difficult it is to detect even catastrophic population declines in marine mammal species, it is critically important to maintain the existing statutory requirement to renew take permits every five years.

On April 25, 2018, Defenders of Wildlife staff testified on the success of the MMPA as the strongest federal law that protects marine mammals and the necessity of protecting the law from being weakened or undermined. Threats to marine mammals are mounting as the Trump administration seeks to expand offshore drilling.

Desert National Wildlife Refuge: The House NDAA would permanently withdraw more than 800,000 acres of National Wildlife Refuge System lands for use by the U.S. Air Force, thereby removing National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) protections and abdicating Congress’s authority to review and reauthorize withdrawals under NEPA every 20 years. The provision also makes permanent more than a dozen military land withdrawals throughout the West. These lands make up over half of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, the largest refuge in the contiguous United States. Desert National Wildlife Refuge provides the highest quality, intact habitat for desert bighorn sheep, mule deer, mountain lions and other wildlife that depend on Great Basin and Mojave Desert ecosystems. The refuge is habitat for more than 300 species of birds and is almost entirely proposed wilderness. This treasured landscape also lies within ancestral homeland of Native Americans, preserving cultural relics and tribal history. The provision would waive NEPA safeguards and hinder the ability of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to conserve species and their habitats on and around military installations by removing FWS as a required coordinating agency for Integrated Natural Resources Management Plans under the Sikes Act.

Endangered Species (Greater sage-grouse, lesser prairie-chicken and American burying beetle): Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop added a non-germane amendment to the bill that seeks to deny protections for three imperiled species: the greater sage-grouse, the lesser prairie-chicken and the endangered American burying beetle. Similar amendments have been included in the House bill several times in the past but have always been removed from the final NDAA passed into law. The Department of Defense did not request this amendment undermining science-based protections for species, which does nothing to enhance military readiness. The ESA already includes exemptions for national security and for DOD.

  • Sage-grouse: This amendment would prohibit the FWS from even considering listing the greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for at least a decade. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has begun a process to roll back the ground-breaking sage-grouse conservation strategy that was adopted to stop sage-grouse declines and avoid the need for an ESA listing for the species. If this amendment were enacted, given Secretary Zinke’s effort to undermine the sage-grouse conservation strategy and with no ability to protect the species under the ESA for at least 10 years, the future of the sage-grouse in the American West looks bleak.

  • Lesser prairie-chicken: Bishop’s amendment would also block ESA protections for the imperiled lesser prairie-chicken for at least 10 years in complete disregard for the species’ biological status. FWS is currently reviewing the status for the lesser prairie-chicken, which occupies less than 15 percent of its former range and experienced a population drop of 50% between 2012 and 2013.

  • American burying beetle: In addition, the amendment would immediately and permanently remove ESA protections for the endangered American burying beetle.

  • Access to court: Finally, the amendment also precludes the ability of citizens to go to court to seek protections for any of these species.

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With over 1.8 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit Newsroom.Defenders.org and follow us on Twitter @DefendersNews.