ESA Working Group Hears from Participants from Across the Nation on the Need to Improve and Update the Law
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) Congressional Working Group, led by Representatives Doc Hastings (WA-04) and Cynthia Lummis (WY-at large), today held a forum entitled “Reviewing 40 Years of the Endangered Species Act and Seeking Improvement for People and Species.” The forum featured 17 panelists, representing diverse groups and interests from across the country who discussed ways in which the Endangered Species Act could be strengthened and improved to better serve the needs of both species and people. Participants specifically highlighted the need to empower states, local governments, and private landowners to conserve species and avoid federal listings, the need for balance within the law, the importance of transparent data and science and the need to prevent the ESA from being used as a tool for lawsuits and closed-door settlements with litigious groups.
“I appreciate all who participated in today’s forum, which was a thoughtful and productive discussion on the Endangered Species Act,” said Rep. Hastings. “From concerns surrounding a sub-species of plant known as the Bladderpod, to salmon, to wolves, my own central Washington constituents continue to be impacted by the ESA in a number of significant ways. Today we heard similar examples, and I invite others to submit their own stories, from around the country on how they have also been directly impacted by this law. It is clear that there is agreement on the need to update the ESA and I appreciate the recommendations offered today.” Read Rep. Hastings’ opening statement.
“The forum today was helpful in advancing the dialogue about how we can move beyond a 20th Century legal framework to a 21st Century conservation ethic. The participants today represented everything from agriculture, to union labor, to business, to conservation groups and everything in between, and every one of them who bothered to show up had something meaningful to offer. I am grateful to them, and to my colleagues on the working group for their willingness to take an honest look at the Endangered Species Act,” said Rep. Lummis.
At the forum, there was widespread acknowledgement of the need to review the ESA, which hasn’t been reauthorized by Congress in 25 years. Christy Plumer, Director of Federal Land Programs for the Nature Conservancy, even noted that the law “could benefit from a review by Congress for the purpose of improving its effectiveness.”
Several participants discussed the real-world economic impacts of the Endangered Species Act. State Senator Tom Casperson from Michigan discussed the decline of responsible timber harvest in his state. He noted that the ESA is “killing the timber industry” and that his state “needs help, needs relief, and needs it fast.” Maria Guitierrez from Fresno, California spoke of the man-made regulatory drought that is impacting rural and poor citizens the hardest, has cost thousands of jobs, and has caused thousands of acres of fertile farm land to dry up. She noted that the current law is a “recipe for economic and personal disaster.” Dan Keppen, representing the Family Farm Alliance stated, “our farmers’ national efforts to keep food affordable, while meeting increased global demands may all be threatened if we don’t change how the ESA is implemented, and soon.”
Mike Wood, business agent for Union Sawmill Workers of Plumas County, CA, also discussed the need for better balance in the law between species and people: “the lack of emphasis on the ‘human element’ causes a cascade of detrimental conditions not only to the forests themselves, but to the jobs in the state, communities in the forests, water supply for California, recreational opportunities, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide emissions from fires, and imports of wood products from areas with less environmental constraints.”
Participants also stressed the need for the law to better engage state and local governments in conservation efforts to eliminate the need of a species to be listed by the federal government. Issa Hamud, Director of the City Environmental Department in Logan, Utah, also recommended that federal agencies “consult with state, local governments, and property owners before new species are listed as threatened or endangered” and shared his belief that “species would be better protected” if states had more ownership. Ross Melinchuk, Deputy Executive Director for National Resources at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, suggested that “amending the ESA to streamline and expand voluntary, incentive-based agreements at the state level would be a first step in meeting the conservation challenges of the future.”
Participants also discussed how litigation is standing in the way of recovery efforts and how listing decisions should be based on sound-science and not court deadlines. Matthew Hite with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, noted that “recent sue and settle arrangements have fueled fear that the rulemaking process itself is being subverted to serve the ends of a few favored interest groups.” Dr. Greg Schildwachter, representing the Boone and Crockett Club, talked about the strict deadlines under the ESA that lead to an increase in lawsuits: “the repeated lawsuits over the listing program have all been based on the fact that ESA required all species under consideration listing to be decided by the same deadline. This is neither scientific nor practical.” Roger Kelly, Director of Regulatory Affairs for Continental Resources in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, asked that the federal government look for “ways to more closely consider the science behind all these efforts and make sure that we have all the facts before moving forward with an action that may have dire economic impacts and that may add little or no significant benefits to the wildlife of our nation.”
The public is encouraged to submit written comments, ideas, and recommendations to the Endangered Species Act Working Group at: http://esaworkinggroup.hastings.house.gov/esa/contact.htm and visit http://esaworkinggroup.hastings.house.gov to watch the archived video webcast from today’s listening forum.