Arguably the bald eagle, our national emblem, would be extinct if not for the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The legislation also has helped with recovery of the wolf and alligator, as well as lesser known species.
But critics charge that it also is being abused by environmental groups that want to force the federal government to spend billions of dollars restricting use of both public and private lands and waters.
As a consequence, the U.S. House of Representatives has formed an Endangered Species Act Working Group. Throughout the coming year, the group will sponsor events, forums, and hearings on how well the act is working, how it could be updated, and how to boost its effectiveness.
“We should be good stewards of the planet God gave us and its inhabitants,” said Oklahoma Rep. James Lankford. “But federal laws protecting dwindling animal populations should be crafted to actually access the problems they intend to solve. Current law, including the ESA, is outdated and does more to protect paperwork than animals.”
As an example of the paperwork problem, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) petitioned the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) late last summer to protect 53 new species of amphibians and reptiles. This followed closely on a 2011 settlement between the Interior Department, CBD, and WildEarth Guardians that covered 779 species in 85 lawsuits and legal actions. In exchange for FWS taking action on those species during the next seven years, the two groups agreed to limit lawsuits so that efforts could be focused on accomplishing the terms of the agreement.
This second petition does not directly violate the terms of the settlement, but it does divert money and resources away from species recovery and disregards the spirit of the settlement by adding to the agency’s backlog of petitions.
“Time and gain, CBD and other similar groups have undermined the goal of the ESA by litigating, obstructing, and frustrating the FWS while racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer-funded attorney fees that continue to feed their litigious strategies to the detriment of species and people,” the House Committee on Natural Resources said in a statement.
As an example of the cost of implementing the ESA as it currently is enforced, FWS estimates that restoring habitat for two species of mussels--- the Neosho mucket and the rabbitsfoot--- will cost between $4.4 and $5.9 million during the next 20 years. And it admits that “the majority of these costs are administrative.”
“I believe that we all support the goal of wanting to preserve, protect, and recover key domestic species,” said Committee Chairman Doc Hastings. “Forty years after it was signed into law, and 25 years since it was last renewed by Congress, I hope there can also be recognition that there are ways this law can be improved and made to work better for both people and species.”
(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)