Reforming the Endangered Species Act

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) has effectively prevented many species from going extinct since it was signed into law 50 years ago. It continues to provide critical federal resources to species in need. Unfortunately, it has also become cumbersome and weaponized by animal rights groups. The best way to celebrate 50 years is to reform, modernize, and strengthen the ESA for the betterment of wildlife, hunters, and conservation.

In enacting the ESA, Congress originally sought to provide a framework to allocate federal resources to recovery efforts for endangered and threatened species, and to ensure that federal projects did not further imperil these species. Once species have recovered to the point where these efforts are no longer needed, management is supposed to be returned to state authority; in other words, a species is supposed to be “delisted.” But animal rights groups have used lawsuits to prevent the delisting of recovered species. This means the federal government has been stuck with the management burden—even while recognizing that federal protection is no longer needed..

Keeping species on the ESA lists indefinitely ties up resources for needier, but often less charismatic, species. Having clear, scientifically backed, and attainable recovery goals that automatically trigger delisting (or downlisting, for a species that has recovered such that it is no longer endangered) would enable more effective management and allow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to implement the law as intended. Additionally, the FWS should not tie up valuable resources by attempting to regulate the conservation of foreign species on foreign soil. Bureaucratic red tape does not provide any conservation benefit for these species, and interferes in foreign sovereignty. Congress provided that threatened species from well-managed conservation programs, especially hunting programs, would be importable without further burden. Hunting is one of the best methods of sustainable conservation around the world, and unreasonable restrictions through the ESA only hurts wildlife, habitat, and proven management strategies.

SCI advocacy staff took this issue to Congress during our Lobby Day this May and have collaborated on advancing legislative amendments to the ESA. SCI has prepared a “wish list” that would better implement and safeguard Congress’ original intent to encourage foreign conservation programs and to allow for the removal of species from the ESA’s protections when they have successfully recovered. We are continuing to work on this with our champions in Congress, as one of our top priorities.

This summer, we are doing a deep dive on all things ESA and what it means for hunters. Stay tuned for more!