Action On Endangered Species Act Heats Up

September was a busy month with regard to the partisan battle over the Endangered Species Act. 

On September 24, the House Natural Resources Committee hastily assembled a legislative hearing in the Waters/Oceans/Wildlife Subcommittee on a slew of partisan wildlife bills, including HR 4348, a bill recently offered by Chairman Grijalva and Sen. Udall to terminate three Trump Administration rules improving ESA’s implementation. 

SCI has supported the ESA Rules in public comments, and SCI CEO W. Laird Hamberlin praised the rules in an op-ed in The Hill on August 20. 

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It was rumored that the Committee set the hearing in response to an ESA Roundtable of affected stakeholders organized by the Western Caucus which is headed by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), the 2017 SCI Legislator of the Year. 

In addition to hearing comments from 13 Members of Congress and DOI Deputy Solicitor for Fish, Wildlife & Parks, Karen Budd-Falen, the roundtable heard from 31 ESA stakeholders representing a wide variety of ideological and business interests. 

On the same day as its ESA Roundtable, the Western Caucus released a legislative package to modernize the ESA.  The reform bills seek to bring the ESA into the 21st Century and make meaningful efforts to create more transparency and cut burdensome red tape and seemingly endless litigation. 

The re-launched legislative package consists of 19 bills and contains several bills of interest to SCI. Among the proposals are the Endangered Species Transparency & Reasonableness Act, sponsored by Rep. McClintock (R-CA) which requires data in ESA listing decisions be put on the Internet, and requires disclosure to affected States of all data used prior to any listing decisions.

Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR) sponsored the PETITION Act which allows the Interior Secretary to declare a “petition backlog” when too many frivolous petitions stack up. It also allows Congress to step in and prevent illegitimate mass-listings of understudied species.

The LAMP Act is sponsored by Rep. Don Young (R-AK) and allows the Interior Secretary to enter into cooperative management agreements with States and local governments, tribes, and other non-federal entities in order to better manage species and improve habitat, and the WHOLE Act, sponsored by Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) will ensure the totality of conservation measures underway will be considered before taking federal action, and reduce the costs associated with the consultation process. 

October is likely to be just as busy with the kick-off being activists from the animal rights group The Center for Biological Diversity’s (CBD) plans to deliver petitions supporting the ESA to 70 Congressional offices across the country – while wearing endangered species masks.

Animal rights groups, such as the CBD, continue to misrepresent the purpose and effect of the revised rules, claiming that the ESA has been ‘gutted.’

SCI has long been engaged in the effort to clarify and improve the ESA and its implementation. Last year, SCI submitted comments on the proposed regulatory changes.  In our comments, we said:  “SCI is encouraged to see that, in the proposed revisions, the Service has found ways to reduce the ambiguities in the regulations that currently inhibit and undermine the Service’s efforts to delist recovered species and avoid the need to list species that would not benefit from federally protected status.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the finalization of rules on August 9. Among other things, the rules are intended to reduce ambiguities in the ESA, provide the public with more transparency on the impact listing decisions will have, and require that threatened species receive protections tailored to their specific needs. 

The ambiguities corrected by the new regulations have provided anti-hunting groups with numerous opportunities to challenge FWS’s efforts to delist recovered wildlife species in court.  Nevertheless, the new rules have themselves already triggered several lawsuits and the courts will soon be considering these challenges filed by animal rights groups and several states.   



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