Jeremy Weber / Flickr)

The Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee voted yesterday to advance a bill that would strip protection from thousands of endangered wolves in the Great Lakes region and Wyoming.

Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) voted with Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) in what was otherwise a party-line vote to approve the Hunting Heritage and Environmental Legacy Preservation for Wildlife Act, or HELP Wildlife Act.

The bill weakens the Endangered Species Act by blocking any further judicial review of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2011 decision to end federal protections for wolves. The legislation also prevents the Environmental Protection Agency from addressing lead pollution’s impacts on fish and other wildlife due to lead-based fishing gear.

A wolf in Lamar Valley in Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park. (Photo: Jim Peaco / NPS)

A wolf in Lamar Valley in Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park. (Photo: Jim Peaco / NPS)

“This bill would be devastating for wolves and a direct blow to the Endangered Species Act,” said Jamie Pang, endangered species policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Senators Cardin and Carper just joined forces with some of the most anti-environmental members of Congress to do serious injury to America’s most successful conservation law.”

The legislation would reauthorize several programs and laws, including the Chesapeake Bay Initiative Act and North America Wetlands Conservation Act. But reauthorization is a largely procedural and symbolic action that does not affect actual yearly funding levels for those efforts. Congress has fully funded the Chesapeake Bay program every year since 2005.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, more than 260 major laws funding over half of the entire federal government’s activity continue to operate under expired  authorizations.

“Democrats need to solidify their conservation legacies — not help Donald Trump and the Republican Party destroy the environment,” Pang said. “There’s no excuse for selling out our environmental protections and teaming up with right-wing lawmakers to declare open season on wolves.”

Since they were driven to near-extinction by hunters and trappers in the early 20th century, gray wolves still occupy only 15 percent of their historical range in the contiguous United States. And between 2011, when their protection was removed, and 2014, when a federal court restored that protection, more than 1,500 animals were killed.

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