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.

About the author

Gabriella Hoffman

Gabriella Hoffman is a media strategist based in the Washington, D.C. Metro Area. She has written for The Resurgent since March 2016 and serves as their D.C. Correspondent.

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