February 4, 2014

House report recommends changes to Endangered Species Act

By M. Reed Hopper Senior Attorney

In May 2013, thirteen members of the House of Representatives formed a working group to evaluate 40 years of ESA enforcement.  The working group considered numerous testimonies, studies and comments, including our own post on ESA “success stories.”  The results of that evaluation were just published here.  What they found is informative:

In short, the Working Group found that the ESA, while well-intentioned from the beginning, must be updated and modernized to ensure its success where it matters most: outside of the courtroom and on-the-ground. A two percent recovery rate of endangered species is simply not acceptable.

The working group offers a number of recommendations in four categories:

  1. Ensuring Greater Transparency and Prioritization of ESA with a Focus on Species Recovery and De-Listing;
  2. Reducing ESA Litigation and Encouraging Settlement Reform;
  3. Empowering States, Tribes, Local Governmentsand Private Landowners on ESA Decisions Affecting Them and Their Property; and,
  4. Requiring More Transparency and Accountability of ESA Data and Science.

Just as important as the recommendations themselves are the values the working group has adopted as a basis for the recommendations:

Americans who live near, work on and enjoy our lands, waters and wildlife show a tremendous commitment to conservation that is too often undermined and forgotten by the ESA’s litigation-driven model. Species and people should have the right to live and prosper within a 21st century model that recognizes the values of the American people and fosters, not prohibits, a boots on-the-ground conservation philosophy that is working at many state and local levels. The ESA can be modernized to more successfully assist species that are truly in danger. It can be updated so species conservation does not create conflicts with people. All the while, the ESA should promote greater transparency in the way our federal government does business.

These recommendations are long overdue and warrant further consideration.

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