Senate SubCommittee Holds Hearing Addressing ESA
On September 29th, the Senate Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife held a briefing titled “Improving the Endangered Species Act: Perspectives from the Fish and Wildlife Service and State Governors.” The briefing consisted of two panels including Dan Ashe, Director of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Governor Mead of Wyoming and Governor Bullock of Montana.
Prior to the hearing, the Public Lands Council and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association submitted a letter to the committee leadership to address problematic and outdated Act.
“While the original intent of the ESA was positive, it has not been reauthorized since 1988 and has an abysmal record of success,” the letter, signed by PLC President Brenda Richards and NCBA president Philip Ellis, read. “Only two percent of species listed under the ESA have ever been deemed recovered.”
The letter also detailed the list-and-litigate abuse of the Act, costing producers and taxpayers alike. These groups sue the federal government to force the listing of a species, then sue to prevent a delisting, even after recovery goals have been met. Their legal expenses are many times reimbursed by taxpayers through the Equal Access to Justice Act. The cost of implementing the ESA to taxpayers, landowners, local governments and businesses is estimated at $3 billion per year.
Fish and Wildlife Service Director Ashe agreed the ESA is need of updating.
“I do believe that the Endangered Species Act should be reauthorized and I think there could be room for the improvement of the law,” said Director Ashe during a committee hearing in May. “I think it is possible to bring people of goodwill together and we can pass legislation that improves the law.”
With the number of ESA petitions increasing, the Director said that proposed changes are the result of a need for better petition management.
“Petitioners should and can bare a greater burden in terms of providing a factual basis to support their petition,” said Director Ashe, who went on to encourage state involvement in providing information.
Senator Sullivan (R-AK) stressed that the ESA should work to provide clear, measureable recovery parameters. With FWS recovery requirements constantly changing, states are left to feel the negative economic effects.
“The implementation of the Endangered Species Act is notoriously inconsistent,” said Senator Sullivan. “Isn’t it fair to say that if the agency continues to use these moving targets for population, it not only creates a financial burden for the state but also fosters a sense of distrust with the agency?”
Governors Bullock and Mead, both representing the Western Governors Association, confirmed the negative economic impact of the ESA. Governor Mead did praise some successes in species recovery, but attributed them to efforts made beyond the Act. Past victories, he stated, are the result of local and state efforts, rather than the ESA.
Last week, the greater Sage Grouse was ruled as not warranted for listing under the ESA, largely due to the habitat conservation efforts and management by the ranchers across the West. While the Administration came to the logical decision not to list the sage grouse, the decision came in conjunction with the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service’s announcement for restrictive land use plans. PLC and NCBA have adamantly opposed these restrictive plans, which are likely just as restrictive as a listing and in our view, too high a cost.
NCBA and PLC maintain that land management and conservation efforts should be made in partnership with those that know the land the best - not by bureaucrats in Washington DC. The rampant abuse of the Act, driven by radical agendas opposed to science, are threatening the livelihoods of ranchers and the success of rural economies across the West.