In the wake of a federal judge’s decision to reinstate the Yellowstone grizzly bear to the endangered species list — although not a direct response to it — the House Natural Resources Committee on September 27 advanced four bills affecting the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The motive behind the proposed update to the ESA is being explained as an attempt to re-balance its effects on wildlife, U.S. citizens and industry. “The modernization package strikes the right balance between conserving and recovering endangered species and their habitats while also reducing federal bureaucracy and allowing for economic development,” said Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.).
“The package strikes the right balance between conserving and recovering endangered species and their habitats while also reducing federal bureaucracy and allowing for economic development.”
The four proposed bills are as follows:
H.R. 6345 — “The EMPOWERS Act” provides for greater involvement of state and local governments with regard to ESA petitions and decisions to list species.
H.R. 6355 — “The PETITION Act” addresses the longstanding issue of petition backlogs, which drain limited federal resources and result in unnecessary lawsuits.
H.R. 6346 — “The WHOLE Act” would ensure that all species protections and conservation measures are considered in their totality when determining the likelihood of destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat.
H.R. 3608 — “The Endangered Species Transparency and Reasonableness Act” requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to track, report to Congress and make available online: 1) funds expended to respond to ESA lawsuits; 2) the number of employees dedicated to litigation; and 3) attorney’s fees awarded in the course of ESA litigation and settlement agreements. The bill also requires the federal government to disclose to affected states all data used prior to any ESA listing decisions and that the “best available scientific and commercial data” used by the federal government include data provided by affected states, tribes and local governments. Finally, this bill places a reasonable caps on attorneys’ fees.
While the main theme of this legislation is the strengthening of the involvement of the states in ESA-related decisions, a secondary theme has also arose: the protection of taxpayer money. As mentioned in the article “Recovery of GYE Grizzly Becomes Debate Over Hunting and ESA’s Scope,” according to a 2011 Washington Post article, “The Fish and Wildlife Service spent so much of its $21 million listing budget on litigation and responding to petitions that it had almost no money to devote to placing new species under federal protection.”
Currently, just over 1 percent of species protected under the ESA have recovered enough to be delisted.
In addition to dollars spent, the return on investment from the ESA has also been the object of scrutiny. Currently, just over 1 percent of species protected under the ESA have recovered enough to be delisted — a fact leveraged by critics but that also needs further explanation. While it’s true that only about 1 percent of listed species have recovered, the Center for Biological Diversity argues that “90 percent of species are recovering at the rate specified by their federal recovery plan.”
Although the ESA’s effectiveness is contentious, opponents of these bills cite industry greed as the primary motive for the updates. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, told the Associated Press that the Republican proposed bills were essentially a “wish list” for private interests, for which the ESA was a barrier.
Knowing that we as a nation possess the knowledge and ability to protect imperiled species, it would be irresponsible to sit idly by and witness their demise. While the debate surrounding the ESA will surely continue, its intention is valuable — even if its means could be more efficient.