TWS writes to Sen. Barrasso regarding changes to the ESA

By Madilyn Jarman

Bald eagles were delisted in 1995 after populations rebounded due to the protections from the ESA and other legislation. ©Jerry McFarland

The Wildlife Society sent a letter to Sen. John Barrasso, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to provide testimony on his draft bill proposal, the Endangered Species Act Amendments of 2018.

The proposed bill would make several changes to the Endangered Species Act, which the Wyoming Republican says are largely based on suggestions from the Western Governors’ Association according to the Senator. The Senate Committee met to discuss a draft of the bill on July 17.

In the letter, TWS supported measures in the bill to expand the roles of state agencies during the listing, recovery, and delisting of endangered and threatened species. In particular, TWS said it appreciated the section that would exempt state agency members of recovery teams from certain requirements under the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which would allow them to participate in management as more equal partners with federal agencies rather than public stakeholders.

“We believe such involvement will help states provide crucial information, lead to improved management decisions and provide the public with more timely information,” says the letter, signed by TWS President John McDonald.

However, TWS expressed concerns about other portions of the Senator’s proposal.

One of these provisions would create a process that would allow states to provide annual feedback on the performance of individual employees of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. TWS expressed concern that such input could harm important working relationships between state partners and federal employees. Allowing people outside the federal government to directly contribute to annual performance reviews could negatively impact federal employees’ morale and quality of work, TWS wrote.

Another major concern is the legislation’s definition for the “best scientific and commercial data available.” The language suggests that the secretaries of the Interior and Commerce would be required to lend more weight to the scientific information provided by state agencies than other entities. TWS highlighted that state agencies produce robust science, but lending undue weight to one source over another undercuts the scientific process and, by extension, the management decisions based upon it.

“Wildlife science and management is done in collaboration, with many components contributing to our growing knowledge,” the letter says. “TWS believes scientific information should be considered on its own merits and given the appropriate weight in the decision making process based on its scientific rigor, not its source.”

Barrasso’s bill comes at the same time as a suite of House bills to amend the ESA. Additionally, USFWS and NOAA Fisheries recently released proposals to change the ways they enforce certain aspects of the law.

Read the TWS position statement and technical review on the Endangered Species Act.

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

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