The Endangered Species Act Needs to Be Overhauled to Better Promote Conservation

USFWS and NOAA Fisheries echoed Congressional calls for ESA reforms. Here’s why this should be celebrated.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries have announced rules changes to amend the Endangered Species Act of 1973 to better reflect “best science and best practices to improve reliability, regulatory efficiency and environmental stewardship.”

In a release issued yesterday, these recommendations came from stakeholders invested in the issue on how to better promote the law without stepping on people’s toes, being duplicitous in nature, or having faulty application of the law that would do little to protect endangered or threatened species. Both agencies urged reforms — not abolition — of the ESA to ensure its application reflects true conservation methods.

“The Trump Administration is dedicated to being a good neighbor and being a better partner with the communities in which we operate. One thing we heard over and over again was that ESA implementation was not consistent and often times very confusing to navigate. We are proposing these improvements to produce the best conservation results for the species while reducing the regulatory burden on the American people,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Principal Deputy Director Greg Sheehan. “We value public input and have already incorporated initial public comments we received in response to our notices of intent published in 2017. We encourage the public to provide us additional feedback to help us finalize these rules.”

“We work to ensure effective conservation measures to recover our most imperiled species,” said Chris Oliver, NOAA Assistant Administrator for Fisheries. “The changes being proposed today are designed to bring additional clarity and consistency to the implementation of the act across our agencies, and we look forward to additional feedback from the public as part of this process.”

Section 4 of the 1973 law would be reformed to “ensure their actions do not jeopardize the continued existence of listed species, or destroy or adversely modify critical habitat.” With respect to this provision, both agencies have proposed measures that offer more specificity in relation to designations made with respect to listing, delisting, and reclassification of species—plus improve how critical habitat designations are made. The agency made it clear that some of these designations of “critical habitat is not prudent.” Section 7 deals with how other federal agencies would consult with the Service and NOAA Fisheriesto “ensure their actions are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered or threatened species or result in “destruction or adverse modification” of critical habitat.”

Independent of this rule change, USFWS and NOAA also hope to amend Section 4(d) of the ESA that applies a blanket rule that awards same protections for threatened species as they would for endangered species. This proposed rule change would exclude currently listed threatened species, but “will ensure that species listed as threatened in the future receive the protections tailored to the species’ individual conservation needs” in the future. Departing from past administrations, these two agencies have proposed this interpretation of “foreseeable future” to mean they—USFWS and NOAA Fisheries—can cogently and clearly “determine that both the future threats and the species’ responses to those threats are probable.”

This reform would be welcomed for several reasons.

First, ESA protections for threatened and endangered species should be tailored to the conservation needs of the species—well rooted in science, and not junk science alarmism. The status of threatened or endangered species can rapidly change when conservation methods are carefully implemented and when facts and findings aren’t manipulated. The designation should also accurately reflect the current status of a particular species, not be labeled as more threatened than believed or recorded for political reasons. Secondly, the law in its current standing has deleterious effects on property owners as in the case of the dusky gopher frog in Weyerhauser Co. v. United States Fish and Wildlife Service, a 2012 incident in Louisiana that ruled that federal government can designate private land in the state as “critical habitat” for this particular frog species in question. This case made it impossible for the landowners to develop their land, with this resulting in costs amounting to $34 million. The case will be heard in the Supreme Court on October 1, 2018. There are many other species — invasive and non-native deemed “threatened” or “extinct”— that are granted these critical habitat designation protections at the expense of landowners, including conservancy fairy shrimp and wolves (the latter of which has exploded in numbers over the years, to the detriment of ranchers in the Mountain West). The ESA in its current standing would force landowners to pay for programs preserving them should they reside on their property. Asinine if you ask me.

The ESA modifications were welcomed by groups like Safari Club International.

Members of the bipartisan Western Caucus similarly hosted a press conference on Capitol Hill last Thursday to shed light on the need to modernize the ESA, given its innumerable shortcomings to protect native species in our country or promote true conservation. In an official press release from July 12th, here’s what the caucus previewed in terms of reforms it hopes to usher in:

Today, Members of the Congressional Western Caucus unveiled a bipartisan package of nine bills, all united by the goal of modernizing and improving the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA). …The ESA has been modified only sparingly since its introduction, with the result being that the hundreds of thousands of interactions that take place every day between parties affected by the Act and the statute as implemented have had almost no bearing on the way species conservation is managed in the United States at the federal level. Even Executive branch regulations governing implementation of the Act lie mostly untouched – and have for years. … Consequently, the sum total of experience and exposure to the ESA across decades by thousands of hugely different parties throughout the United States has been decisively ignored when it comes to improving the Act. Not a Caucus to let such an embarrassment of riches lie wasted, we saw an opportunity for serious reform….The ultimate goal which every Member involved in the Modernization Package agreed on was that the ESA must be retooled in order to: 1)Fulfill its original intent of prioritizing real recovery and conservation of eligible species, and; 2) More effectively balance the interests of all parties involved in and affected by species and habitat listings – including species themselves, private citizens, industry, local governments, public infrastructure projects, nonprofit organizations and other entities.

Here are more posts in support of ESA reforms:

If reforms were to be enacted, they would target the following shortcomings: 1) reducing environmental litigation, 2) more possibility for sustainable land development 3) and farming while concurrently protecting endangered species.

The ESA was enacted to accomplish the following: “The purpose of the ESA is to protect and recover imperiled species and the ecosystems upon which they depend. It is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) and the Commerce Department’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). The Service has primary responsibility for terrestrial and freshwater organisms, while the responsibilities of NMFS are mainly marine wildlife such as whales and anadromons fish such as salmon.” However, it can be argued that the ESA took a staunch preservationist view over a conservationist view and now applies its provision to non-native species, among many of its longstanding issues.

I spoke with Congressman Louie Gohmert last fall about his SAVES Act, which was placed on a Union Calendar back in February. The goal of the SAVES Act is to ” amend the Endangered Species Act of 1973 to provide that nonnative species in the United States shall not be treated as endangered species or threatened species for purposes of that Act.”

​Not surprising, rabid animal rights groups and Democrats have screamed bloody murder with respect to the modernization of the ESA.

Lawmakers tied these proposed rule changes to Trump SCOTUS pick Brett Kavanaugh or blamed the “villainous” nature of the current administration.

EcoWatch said these rule changes “will push wildlife over the edge and into extinction.”

Center for Biological Diversity, which has a lengthy history opposing hunting as a means of conservation, said Interior is threatened by the ESA in its current standing because it’s “effective.” (Really?)

Sierra Club issued a statement saying without the ESA in its current form, we wouldn’t see grizzly bears or American bald eagles and they risk going “extinct” with new changes.

Reforms to the ESA should be welcomed not only to better promote true conservation efforts, but to promote coexistence with private property rights. I’ll continue to monitor developments here at The Resurgent.

#OurOcean Will Endure If Fishing Access Isn’t Cut Off

Another sweeping move to “protect” marine life disguised as conservation has just passed, as denoted by the trending hashtag #OurOcean.

This comes at the heels of the Our Oceans Summit currently taking place in Washington, D.C.–which announced the designation of the first marine monument off the coast of New England:

The United Kingdom also announced that it’ll ban fishing from one million square kilometers of ocean:

The UK is to ban commercial fishing from a million square kilometres of ocean around British overseas territories, the government said on Thursday.

In total, the government is creating marine protected areas around four islands in the Pacific and Atlantic, including the designation this week of one of the world’s biggest around the Pitcairn Islands.

Commercial fishing will be banned in all of Pitcairn’s zone and half of the 445,390 sq km Ascension protected area. Fishing will be allowed in the other areas, but activities such as oil drilling will be prohibited.

This sweeping action from Britain’s government can incur serious problems for those whose livelihoods depends on commercial fishing since they are already burdened by E.U. fishing restrictions.

The question beckons: Why weren’t commercial fishermen consulted and invited to engage in dialogue? How come voters couldn’t decide on this? Why the haste to pass this?

 

This radical policy proposal shouldn’t surprise you. After all, there’s a sister law in effect stateside in California. The Marine Life Protection Act was first enacted in 1999 on the pretext of protecting and conserving marine life and habitats–boasting 120 protected areas that cover 16% of California. Here’s more about California’s Marine Life Protection Act:

This Act aims to protect California’s marine natural heritage through establishing a statewide network of marine protected areas (MPAs) designed, created, and managed using sound science and stakeholder input.

MPAs protect the diversity and abundance of marine life, the habitats they depend on, and the integrity of marine ecosystems. The Marine Life Protection Act recognizes that a combination of MPAs with varied amounts of allowed activities and protections (marine reserves, marine conservation areas, and marine parks) can help conserve biological diversity, provide a sanctuary for marine life, and enhance recreational and educational opportunities. MPAs can also provide scientific reference points to assist with resource management decisions, and protect a variety of marine habitats, communities, and ecosystems for their economic and intrinsic value, for generations to come.

As a result, anglers feel targeted and alienated. California Sportfishing League Executive Director Marko Mlikotin believes MLPA is hurting the relationship once held between anglers and the Department of Fish and Wildlife. He called the law the biggest “bait and switch” ever. (Emphasis is bolded):

 

There is no question that the passage of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) has been the most controversial environmental issue California’s angling community has ever faced. It signaled the state’s shift from a shared philosophy of conserving California’s natural resources to outright protectionism, with little regard to the interests of outdoor recreation, tourism and all of their economic benefits.

The bottom line is the state did not recruit recreational anglers to serve on stakeholder groups to seek their advice on how best to deny them access to some of California’s finest fishing, permanently. That would have been a none-starter. Rather, stakeholders were assured that environmental mitigation was required to protect the ocean’s natural resources, and their participation aimed to balance the interests of responsible environmental stewardship and outdoor recreation.

The commission would be wise to abandon their current course of action of denying the truth, thereby enshrining the Marine Life Protection Act’s legacy as the greatest bait and switch act ever. It will only further damage their relationship with those who were once their partners in conserving our state’s natural resources. What’s more, their actions have economic consequences. Recreational fishing contributes over $4.9 billion in economic activity each year, and its economic value will only decrease as the state continues to deny access to some of the nation’s finest fishing.

Fishing and protection of marine species should co-exist, not be at odds. However, pushing preservation over conservation will ultimately hurt both parties. In my January 2016 interview with Wicked Tuna star Dave Marciano, he stressed the important role commercial fishermen play in protecting the ocean :

I’ve been a commercial fisherman my entire life. It’s one of the most highly regulated things in the world…It’s a cool little thing to put a face on the fishing industry. In the past, the environmental community at times working against us to get their message out and obviously sometimes I tend to disagree with. They can paint a pretty harsh picture of what commercial fisherman are. So it’s nice to kind of be able to put a face on that commercial fishing industry so people can start to understand where their seafood comes from because folks like me and others, as many guys like me out there, simply make a living from the sea–similar to farming except we’re out there in the ocean. We do care about the resources. We do care about the health of the ocean. We do care about our kids having a future in fishing.

The majority of people–fishermen included–desire to protect and preserve the ocean. In fact, fishermen are the biggest advocates for clean oceans and continual preservation of marine life. Restricting access to fishing may protect the environment in the short term, but will have devastating economic AND environmental effects long-term.

Fishermen are not the enemy of conservation; big government is.

Let’s Reclaim Conservation Efforts from Radicals

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the creation of the National Park Service (NPS). NPS currently boasts 58 national parks enjoyed by millions of Americans each year.

Like many of you, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting many of these parks. They are not only beautiful, but are exemplary of America’s exceptional heritage and natural beauty.

Conservatives and even some on the Left believe that if entities like NPS relied less on government and more on private contributions, it would run more efficiently and draw in more people.

This begs the question: do conservatives actually hate the environment? Quite the contrary!

Conservatives who hunt and fish are true conservationists  

The National Wildlife Foundation says, “Hunters and anglers are a core constituency to preserving our conservation legacy.”

Many folks on the Right grew up fishing and hunting as a means of supporting their livelihoods. (They also enjoy the entertainment value and life lessons.) Both activities promote self-reliance, stewardship, and true conservation. These activities don’t harm the environment; in fact, they positively impact both humanity and wildlife without disrupting the cycle of life.

While there are some Democrats who support true conservation efforts, the Right has traditionally stood for and supported the expansion of fishing and hunting rights across the country. A 2012 National Survey of Hunters & Anglers published by the National Wildlife Foundation found that anglers and hunters are conservative and overwhelmingly vote Republican:

  • 42% of those interviewed indicated they were Republican, 32% indicated they were Independent with 18% indicting they considered themselves Democrats. 27% indicate they split their ticket when voting
  • 50% consider themselves conservative, including 22% who consider themselves very conservative.

The same study also deemed conservation is weighed equally with gun rights:

47% believe that gun rights are important, but conservation is just as important. 37% believe that gun rights are the most important issue facing sportsmen, while 13% believe that gun rights are not as important as conservation issues.

Conservatives believe free-market environmentalism, not radicalism, is the way forward

Free markets and true environmentalism go hand-in-hand. The current view of environmentalism is rooted in preservation and anti-life, anti-business measures. The goal of radical environmentalism is to undermine business and close off access to public lands and waters to those whose livelihoods depend on it. Here’s more on free-market environmentalism:

  • Markets, property rights, and the rule of law are fundamental to economic growth, and economic growth is fundamental to improving environmental quality. There is a strong correlation between treatment of the environment and standards of living.
  • Property rights make the environment an asset rather than a liability by giving owners an incentive for stewardship.
  • Markets and the process of exchange give people who have different ideas and values regarding the use of natural resources a way of cooperating rather than fighting. When cooperation supplants conflict, gains from trade emerge.

While some of our favorite stores like Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s have engaged in cronyism by receiving over $2.2 billion in taxpayer subsidies (circa 2012)–which is disappointing–free market environmentalism can appeal to conservationists eager to expand enterprise while simultaneously protecting the environment. It’s imperative to showcase that private enterprise, not the federal government, has upheld quality environmental standards.

Conservatives believe public lands are better managed by states, not the federal government 

Although some in conservationist circles admonish the idea of “privatization” or the transfer of public lands to states, conservatives believe that state sovereignty calls for greater stewardship of the environment without reliance on the federal government.

It can be argued that states are best equipped to tackle the fishing and hunting needs of residents. As proponents of limited government, we’d rather see states–not the federal government–manage hunting and fishing resources. Why? They are more attuned to how our taxpayer dollars are actually spent. Some argue that transferring land ownership to the states would be costly, but current regulations and restrictions in place have made it impossible for land management reform to take place. Why should the federal government intervene in affairs related to Yosemite National Park in California or Arches National Park in Utah? (It shouldn’t.)

A one-size-fits-all approach to land management isn’t conducive to expanding hunting and fishing access either. For example, why can’t Virginia’s Department of Game and Inland Fisheries be tasked with managing lands over the Bureau of Land Management or Department of Interior? It’s far more familiar with the needs and wants of Virginia’s anglers and hunters. Plus, it familiarizes itself with conditions all across the state and places an importance on preserving lands that matter to us. It also does a fairly decent job of promoting conservation without infringing on our rights.

We can’t allow our opponents to paint us as antagonists of the environment any longer. Yes, private enterprise and the environment can co-exist. Yes, hunting and fishing do promote conservation. And yes, land management should be reserved to the states.

Happy trails, friends!