Proposed ESA changes brought to Senate

By Madilyn Jarman

The last 18 black-footed ferrets were removed from a ranch in Wyoming in 1987. Listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, they have been reintroduced in eight states, Canada and Mexico.
©Elisa Dahlberg/USFWS

The Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works held a hearing on July 17 to discuss the draft language of the Endangered Species Act Amendments of 2018, a bill forwarded by Chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyoming.

“Stakeholders are making it clear that the Endangered Species Act can be improved,” Barrasso said in his opening statement.

Barrasso’s bill would increase the role of states in the management of threatened and endangered species. It would require federal officials to give extra consideration to state data during listing decisions, require the number of federal representatives on a recovery team to be equal or less than the number of state or local representatives and require the Interior secretary to solicit annual state feedback on federal employees’ performances.

“In my view, states are the leaders in terms of species conservation,” said Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, a Republican and chairman of the Western Governors Association.

Barrasso’s draft bill was largely drawn from recommendations from the WGA. Although the original WGA report was a bipartisan efforts, many Democratic Western governors have not openly endorsed Barrasso’s bill because of some alterations made in the language.

Ranking member Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Delaware, said that although the ESA could probably be improved, he doubted that could be accomplished in Washington’s current political climate.

“Our colleagues in this Congress forwarded and advanced a myriad of legislative proposals to weaken, and, in some cases, undermine the Endangered Species Act,” Carper said. “The current administration has repealed policies of the previous administration that would have helped endangered species to recover.”

Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Mathew Strickler said his state could not endorse the draft bill because it would hurt its ability to manage wildlife. He said the bill could undermine important federal and state partnerships and interfere with scientifically-based management decisions since more weight would be given to state data than federal, commercial and university information.

“These species are critically imperiled, and we may not have another chance to get it right if we’re not using the best available science,” Strickler said in response to a question from Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois.

Strickler instead suggested that providing adequate funding for recovery efforts was a much more effective way to recover more species faster. “About a quarter of endangered species are receiving less than $10,000 a year towards recovery,” he said.

Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife Director Bob Broscheid was much more supportive of the bill, but he also stressed the importance of adequate funding for both federal and state efforts to recover species. In his oral statement, Broscheid brought up the potential impact of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (H.R. 4647/S. 3223), which would provide up to $1.3 billion annually to states to sustain species and prevent their need to be listed under the ESA.

On July 12, the Congressional Western Caucus released a series of bills. On July 19, The U.S. Fish and WIldlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service announced potential revisions to how the ESA is implemented.

All three efforts claim to modernize the ESA, which has not been substantially amended since it was last reauthorized in 1988. The Wildlife Society is looking into how these proposed changes could affect the role of science in wildlife management decisions and the ability of wildlife professionals to conserve species.

Madilyn Jarman is a Policy Communication Intern at The Wildlife Society. Read more of Madilyn's articles.

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