With all the money in politics, it can be hard to know whether politicians still listen to citizens' voices. Hoping they do, two Montanans became lobbyists-for-a-day as they asked members of Congress to preserve endangered species and the law that protects them.
"I moved to Montana a few years after the Endangered Species Act passed (in 1973). I saw few bald eagles then, never heard a wolf howl and found few grizzly tracks," says Bert Lindler, a sportsman who is active in habitat restoration projects in the Missoula area. "Now I see dozens of bald eagles each year, kick wolf scat off the trail when hiking and have a recovering grizzly population just a few miles from my door. My days afield are richer because of the Endangered Species Act."
On June 16, Lindler and Glenn Hockett, president of the Gallatin Wildlife Association, joined 15 activists from nine other states on Capitol Hill to lobby 40 senators and representatives to preserve the ESA. The "fly-in" was sponsored by nine conservation organizations concerned about ever-increasing congressional efforts to weaken the law.
Over the past five years, the number of congressional attempts aimed at thwarting ESA protections has increased 600 percent compared to the previous decade, according to Derek Goldman of the Endangered Species Coalition, one of the groups that sponsored the trip. So far this Congress, politicians have introduced more than 100 bills and riders seeking to override various parts of the ESA, pushed mainly by lobbyists from extractive industries, including energy and mining interests.
Hockett credits Sen. Jon Tester's 2011 rider forcing the delisting of the wolf in the Northern Rockies as the starting point for the surge in riders. While Hockett says he agreed with Tester's action at the time, he's appalled by the current explosion of anti-ESA legislation.
"They're all attached to must-pass budget bills. This is an attack on the foundation of science," Hockett says. "[The ESA] passed unanimously in the Senate, almost unanimously in the House and was signed by a Republican president. So how we've gotten to where we're at today—what has happened?"
Hockett and Lindler didn't get a chance to ask Tester or Sen. Steve Daines directly about the ESA in Washington, but did meet with staffers. They also scored a few minutes with Rep. Ryan Zinke when they caught him outside his office before another appointment. Goldman believes even brief encounters with staffers and delegates makes a difference.
"I think hearing from constituents who are willing to come to D.C. to talk about these issues, we certainly hope it makes an impression on members of Congress and their decision-making," he says.
Lindler agrees, adding the trip was an eye-opening experience.
"A Montana boy needs to realize that it's a swinging door in the halls of Congress—as soon as you swing out, there's another person swinging in behind you," he says. "The schedules are very busy and they see a lot of folks with a lot of different interests. But the trip was worthwhile for me."