Discussions continue regarding ESA

There is a growing list of proposed changes and discussions surrounding what various sides see as the Endangered Species Act’s successes, failures, and challenges.

In recent weeks, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., held a hearing with the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on his draft of the Endangered Species Act Amendments of 2018, the Congressional Western Caucus introduced nine House bills aimed at making changes to the ESA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA released several proposed changes to the ways regulations are enforced.

More recently, a report has surfaced indicating a lack of sufficient species recovery plans, the USFWS has solicited more feedback on the management and status of some controversial endangered species and more legislation has been introduced affecting science-based listing decisions.

Recovery Plans

A recent study published in Conservation Letters says recovery plans for species listed under the ESA are sorely lacking. These recovery plans include details about a species life history, threats and the efforts needed to save and recover a species until it can be delisted. Nearly 25 percent of listed species do not have a recovery plan in place, researchers found, and nearly 50 percent have recovery plans that are more than 20 years old. Additionally, half the plans in place took more than five years to finalize after the species was listed.

Red Wolf Management and Five-year Status Reviews

The USFWS has extended the public comment period for proposed changes to the management of an experimental population of red wolves (Canis rufus) in North Carolina. The 15 additional days began on Aug. 13. Comments will close Aug. 28.

The proposed changes are intended to allow more resources to go toward the captive breeding program and reduce regulations affecting private landowners. The USFWS received nearly 15,000 written opinions during the initial comment period, which ended July 30.

The Service has also given notice of upcoming five-year status reviews for 11 species, including the Gunnison sage-grouse (Centrocercus minimus), Utah prairie dog (Cynomys parvidens) and Preble’s meadow jumping mouse (Zapus hudsonius preblei).

The reviews are following the regular schedule to determine the status of the species. However, some of the species being reviewed have proven controversial. The status of the Gunnison sage-grouse is subject to ongoing litigation, even as federal management of greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) is under review. The recent House version of the appropriations bill included an amendment that would block enforcement of the listing for the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse.

The public comment period on these status reviews ends Oct. 9.


Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind., has introduced the Modifying Unaccountable Standards and Simplifying Endangered Lists, or MUSSELS, Act (H.R. 6668). This legislation would remove freshwater mussels from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Species and prevent future listings of freshwater mussels.

In an op-ed in the Monticello Herald Journal, Rokita explains that a plan by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to divert water from Lake Shafer and Lake Freeman to sustain endangered mussel populations in the Tippecanoe river is an example of “overreaching government regulations that have put the well-being of freshwater mussels over the economic health and safety of the community.”

North America is home to nearly 300 species of freshwater mussel, more than anywhere else in the world. Over 50 species are currently protected under the ESA, with others up for consideration.

See TWS’ Endangered Species Act Technical Review and Position Statement.

Header Image: Red wolves are among the species at the center of recent discussions involving the Endangered Species Act. ©Valerie