House Committee approves bill to overturn ESA rules

By Laura Bies

The Canada lynx (Lynx Canadensis) is one of the species listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act. ©Lisa Hupp/USFWS

The House Natural Resources Committee approveda bill sponsored by committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) last week that would block the administration’s recent rules that change implementation of the Endangered Species Act.

Those rule changes apply to sections of the ESA covering the listing and delisting process, designating critical habitat and consultations with other federal agencies.

After extensive debate, the committee approved the Protect America’s Wildlife and Fish in Need of Conservation Act of 2019 (H.R. 4348), which overturns the administration’s 2019 rules updating the ESA. The vote was nearly along party lines, with 21 Democrats voting to approve and 15 Republicans and one Democrat opposing.

The Endangered Species Act has garnered attention in Congress lately, with several pieces of legislation that the Western Caucus introduced last month to amend the act.

The Wildlife Society expressed concerns about the possible effects of the administration’s new rules in written comments submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service. “The Wildlife Society supports a strong and science-based Endangered Species Act,” said Caroline Murphy, AWB®, government relations manager at The Wildlife Society. “We have several concerns about the regulatory changes and appreciate the committee’s attention to this issue.”

“In particular, we recommended that the blanket rule be retained. We are concerned that the agency won’t receive the funding or prioritize staff capacity in a manner that enables them to create scientifically rigorous 4(d) rules for all newly threatened species,” Murphy said.

The committee approved several other bills last week, including two promoting the establishment of wildlife corridors on federal and Native American lands across the United States. The Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act of 2019 (S. 1499/H.R. 2795) would establish a National Wildlife Corridor System for federal lands and waters, with a goal of improving connectivity of wildlife habitats and restoring wildlife movements across the landscape.

In addition to establishing the national corridor system, the bill would also establish a grant program to fund conservation projects that increase wildlife movement, require the development of a national plan for wildlife movement, and improve coordination between national wildlife corridors on federal lands and conservation plans of states, tribes and voluntary landowners.

The committee also voted to advance the Tribal Wildlife Corridors Act of 2019(S. 2891/H.R. 5179), which would support federally designated American Indian tribes in identifying, establishing and protecting wildlife corridors on tribal lands.

The committee also approved the “Safeguarding America’s Future and Environment Act” (H.R. 2748), a bill supported by The Wildlife Society, which would establish an integrated national approach to climate change and its effects on fish and wildlife.

The bills approved by the Natural Resources Committee must now be voted upon by the full House of Representatives.

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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