Endangered Species Act Amendments of 2020 introduced

By Laura Bies

Brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) driven to near extinction by habitat loss and DDT, were recovered under the ESA and delisted in 2009. Credit: USFWS

A newly released bill in the U.S. Senate would amend the Endangered Species Act, transferring more authority to state and local experts. The Endangered Species Act Amendments of 2020 (S. 4589), introduced on Sept. 16, is the final version of a discussion draft released by the bill’s sponsor, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), more than two years ago.

The legislation would increase the role of states in endangered species recovery by providing them an opportunity to lead recovery planning, implementation planning and implementation when a listed species is within their borders. It would also require state input on species’ recovery plans, along with input from parties with a direct interest in the land where the listed species is believed to occur.

Judicial review of delisting provisions would be blocked until a post-delisting monitoring period expires. All federal expenditures that are a direct result of any provision of the ESA would be tracked, per the legislation.

The Wildlife Society supported some provisions of the discussion draft bill when it was released in 2018, especially those that enhanced the role of state wildlife agencies in species’ recovery. However, the Society had concerns about other provisions, such as the definition of “best scientific and commercial data available.”

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee considered the bill during a legislative hearing last week.

Governor Mark Gordon of Wyoming spoke in favor of the bill. “The current bill provides significant improvements in allowances for state and tribal involvement throughout all processes associated with the ESA,” he said. The bill “requires the Secretary to notify governors when an ESA petition is filed. It provides allowances for state agencies to lead recovery teams and to take significant roles in recovery planning and implementation. Governors and tribal leaders would have the opportunity to weigh in on listing decisions before they are made. These are critical steps to recognize the value local wildlife managers bring to discussions involving the preservation and recovery of imperiled species.”

Jamie Rappaport Clark, the current President and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife and a former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, testified in opposition to the bill. “The bill before the Committee today does not strengthen the ability of the ESA to conserve imperiled species.” she said. “At a time when we should be redoubling our commitment to protect biodiversity and stop extinction, Senator Barrasso’s bill would undermine key provisions of the ESA and result in significant harm to at-risk species and their habitats, further exacerbating the environmental challenges we are facing today.”

The current Congress ends in early January, and the bill is unlikely to garner a vote before then. But Sen. Barrasso has indicated his intention to reintroduce the bill in the 117th Congress next year.

Read TWS’ position statement and technical review on the 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.

Share your thoughts on this article, and others, on our Facebook and Twitter pages.