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Our Views

Our Views Columns

Date: 7/9/2018

Title: Cooler Heads Can Prevail on ESA Modernization

Ranchers across the U.S. take pride in their role as land managers and environmental stewards. That’s why livestock groups were quick to support new legislation that would modernize the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The legislation, proposed by Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), is intended to refocus the ESA process on wildlife recovery.

The status quo clearly is not working. Less than 2% of species that receive an ESA listing are ever delisted. Out of the 1,661 total species listed as endangered, less than a third have a recovery plan. Meanwhile, agenda-driven outside groups have become adept at exploiting the ESA to dominate the policy process and tie-up land managers in endless litigation. This is not the way conservation is supposed to work.

Senator Barrasso’s proposed legislation is based on bipartisan recommendations put forward by the Western Governors’ Association (WGA), which led a three-year stakeholder consultation process that included ranchers, local land managers, and environmental groups. Sadly, that was not enough for the Defenders of Wildlife. Despite being included in every meeting and having their input incorporated into the proposed legislation, Defenders president and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark immediately called the proposal “a reckless power grab designed to wrest away authority from scientists and wildlife experts.” For good measure, she added that the bill is more about “pleasing the Western Governors’ Association and industries that oppose wildlife conservation than helping endangered species.”

Let’s hope cooler heads can prevail as the legislative push for ESA modernization moves forward. The environmental community can and should play an important role in the process, but the reactionary and aggressive approach demonstrated by Defenders of Wildlife is hardly a recipe for cooperation. Rural communities across the West are sick and tired of a litigation-based ESA process that leaves them marginalized from decisions that impact their livelihoods. If we truly hope to bring common-sense and accurate science back to wildlife recovery and conservation, all stakeholders must continue the good-faith effort that has gotten us this far.