New bills would exclude non-native species from ESA protections

By Laura Bies

The dama gazelle (Gazella dama), a species found in Africa, is listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and bred in private facilities in the U.S. Credit: Valerie

Both the U.S. House and the Senate recently introduced legislation that would amend the nation’s Endangered Species Act to prohibit listing non-native species as threatened or endangered.

Introduced by Sen. Cruz (R-TX) in the Senate and Rep. Gohmert (R-TX) in the House, the “Saving America’s Vulnerable and Endangered Species Act” would amend the ESA to include a provision that “notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary [of the Interior] shall not list under section 4(c) any living non-native species.” The term ‘non-native’ is not defined by the ESA itself or by the new legislation. Section 4(c) is the portion of the law that governs the administration of the list of threatened and endangered species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service maintains a list of threatened and endangered foreign species that all have ranges entirely outside the United States. Currently, there are over 600 species on that list, including Asian and African elephants (Elphas maximus and Loxodanta africana). Under the ESA, the import, export, take, interstate commerce and foreign commerce of those species is regulated and managed by the USFWS through a permitting system to help ensure the conservation of the species. If this bill were passed, no additional foreign species could be added to the ESA list, limiting future international conservation activities.

According to a statement by Sen. Cruz, by eliminating some regulatory requirements for those engaged in captive breeding of exotic non-natives, the bill “will make it easier for ranchers and wildlife sanctuaries to repopulate non-native species without being stifled by bureaucratic red tape.” It would also mean that the pet trade would face fewer restrictions on the movement of non-native species into and around the country, as currently that movement is regulated through USFWS permits.

Similar legislation was also introduced in 2018 and in 2019. In 2018, the House Natural Resources committee approved the bill, but it did not receive a vote on the floor; the bill did not advance in the Senate. Neither bill advanced out of committee in 2019.  In previous congresses, many conservation groups opposed the “Saving America’s Vulnerable and Endangered Species,” but the legislation was supported by some hunting organizations and the pet industry.

Read TWS’ Standing Position on Threatened and Endangered Species in the U.S. 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.

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