House Committee issues report on Endangered Species Act released
On Feb. 4, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) Congressional Working Group, led by Representatives Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) and Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) released its final report, which included the findings and recommendations of the group.
“There is no doubt of the strong and widespread support for helping to protect endangered species,” Hastings commented. “However, our findings clearly show that there is room for improvements and ways to bring this 40-year-old law into the 21st century.”
The report is the culmination of the working group’s eight-month effort to examine the ESA from a variety of viewpoints and angles, receive input on how the ESA is working and being implemented, and how and whether it could be updated to be more effective for both people and species.
Lummis added, “We all agree on our obligation to protect imperiled species. Our working group has concluded that the Endangered Species Act needs updating in light of tremendous conservation advances since 1973.”
Hundreds of comments from outside individuals and testimony from nearly 70 witnesses who appeared in the wide variety of working group forums and House Natural Resources Committee hearings were incorporated into the report.
The report concludes, “After more than 40 years, sensible, targeted reforms would not only improve the eroding credibility of the Act, but would ensure it is implemented more effectively for species and people.”
Hastings added, “Returning focus of the law to species recovery, addressing litigation and settlement reforms, improving state and local participation and improving science and data are some of the specific areas of improvements on which I believe we can build consensus.”
The report recommends changes in four major categories of the ESA.
First, the committee noted that the ESA should ensure greater transparency and prioritization of ESA with a focus on species recovery and delisting.
A reduction in ESA litigation and encouragement for settlement reform was also targeted.
The report recommended empowering states, tribes, local government and private landowners on ESA decisions affecting them and their property and required more transparency and accountability of ESA data and science.
“The American people have grown by leaps and bounds in their understanding of conservation, their willingness to conserve species and their ability to conserve species,” Lummis added. “The ESA needs to grow with them.”
Wyoming industry groups also commented on the report, noting that it should help to influence the changes that the industry hopes to see.
“I’m not anticipating that we will see changes this year, but it builds a good case for the legal time that allows reform,” says Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna.
Magagna added that the report reaffirmed the notion that on-the-ground conservation by people in the industry is top priority.
“Hopefully, this sets the stage for focusing on a new way of doing business that provides incentives to private landowners and land managers to provide good resource management that benefits an array of species, rather than thinking we are protecting species by restricting land use,” he said.
Wyoming Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton added, “The report articulated many of the problems with this particular law. There was a lot of evidence presented about how it has been misused by certain groups and how those groups have actually prevented effective recovery efforts by the federal government.”
“If, and I believe this is a big ‘if,’ the proposals and recommendations do find their way into the Act, most of the recommendations would be helpful to Wyoming agriculture,” he commented.
Lummis continued that the manner that the ESA continues to operate within is not only detrimental to industry but is also not effective for conservation.
“The ESA is stuck in a litigation driven model. This outdated model hinders the boots on-the-ground conservation we should be harnessing to actually recover endangered species, not just spout flowery rhetoric about the law in courtrooms. Our report is an exciting opportunity to bring the ESA into the next millennia,” Lummis commented.