Congressional Western Caucus introduces ESA legislation

By Laura Bies

The Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi) was listed as endangered in 1967; since then the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state of Florida have been working together to recover the species.
©Connie Bransilver/USFWS

Congressional Western Caucus members have filed several bills to amend the Endangered Species Act. The legislative package, announced last week, includes more than a dozen bills intended to “to modernize the Endangered Species Act to better protect species, and to treat property owners, states and local stakeholders as partners rather than obstacles,” according to a press release from the caucus.

The legislative package, which includes previously introduced legislation as well as some new bills, is similar to one the caucus announced last fall during a roundtable discussion.

“The Endangered Species Act empowers wildlife professionals in the United States with vital tools to conserve biodiversity,” says Keith Norris, AWB®, The Wildlife Society’s director of policy and communications. “Any changes made to the law, or its implementing regulations, should aim to enhance the law’s science-based decision-making processes, support increased federal and state partnerships, and further leverage financial resources available for implementation.”

One bill in the package, the Threatened Species Protection Improvement Act of 2020 (H.R. 5557), introduced by Rep. Ken Buck (R-Col.) would codify the rule finalized last year by the Trump administration eliminating the blanket 4(d) rule, which had automatically provided threatened species with the same protections from “take” as endangered species, unless otherwise specified.

Other bills codify other aspects of the ESA regulations finalized last year. The Critical Habitat Improvement Act (H.R. 5591) would codify a rule change related to critical habitat, adding a requirement that unoccupied areas must have one or more of the physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the species to be considered as potential critical habitat. The administration announced recently its intent to develop a new regulatory definition of critical habitat.

Other bills in the package would require consideration of the economic costs of listing a species, prevent private property from being designated as critical habitat without the landowner’s consent, unless there is “endangerment or extinction of the species without such designation” and increase the role of state and local governments in the petition and listing processes.

The bills will be referred to the House Natural Resources Committee, which is currently chaired by Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who is unlikely to move the bills forward. “At this point, I don’t have any compelling interest to have a hearing” on the package, Grijalva told E&E News. He called the package “an effort to destroy ESA from some of the more extreme people.”

Last year, Grijalva introduced legislation to revoke the recent policy changes from the Interior Department regarding ESA implementation.

As the debate on changes to the ESA continues on the Hill, the Service is moving forward with reviewing the status of grizzly bears in response to a recent lawsuit. The last five-year review for the grizzly bear was published in 2011. The agreement to conduct a new review settles one claim in the larger lawsuit regarding updating the grizzly bear recovery plan.

The Wildlife Society supports the Service’s 2017 decision delist grizzly bears and encourages the legal system to defer to the expertise of agency biologists when considering the biological issues surrounding delisting. TWS previously submitted comments on the delisting of grizzly bears.

Read TWS’ standing position on Threatened and Endangered Species and Position Statement on the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Laura BiesLaura Bies is a government relations contractor and freelance writer for The Wildlife Society. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science and a law degree from George Washington University. Laura has worked with The Wildlife Society since 2005. Read more of Laura's articles.

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