Legislative package by the Western Caucus needed to bring improvements to Endangered Species Act

The Congressional Western Caucus recently introduced a series of bills to modernize the Endangered Species Act of 1973(ESA). One part of this package includes our bill, the LIST Act of 2018, which makes a number of improvements to bring the ESA into the 21st century.

The LIST Act does not eliminate protections for truly endangered species. Rather, the bill authorizes the secretary of the Interior to delist species when he receives objective, measurable and scientific evidence demonstrating that such species has been recovered; and penalizes those who intentionally submit false or fraudulent data in order to cause an unwarranted species listing. These important provisions will allow the federal government to focus scarce taxpayer resources on species that are actually in need of protection. 

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The ESA has become one of the most intrusive federal laws for Western states. Over the last four decades, ESA mandates, including the designation of critical habitat, have done more to infringe on private property and states’ rights than they have to recover endangered species. The ESA was enacted to protect endangered species and their habitats; however, fake science and a faulty process for delisting species once they are recovered has harmed Westerners and failed to protect species.

More than 2,300 species are currently listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA, including the infamous Gray Wolf. According to the Species Survival Commission Wolf Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation Nature, the Gray Wolf is currently found in nearly 50 countries around the world and has been placed in the classification of "least concern" globally for risk of extinction. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published a rule to delist the Gray Wolf in the contiguous U.S. after FWS found the “best available scientific and commercial information indicates that the currently listed entity is not a valid species under the Act.” 

This improper listing of the Gray Wolf allows unelected bureaucrats, in the name of protecting a wolf that doesn’t need protection, to limit the use of public and private land throughout the country. It also prevents farmers and ranchers from protecting their land and livestock from these dangerous predators. Since 2014 alone, the Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board has spent more than $1.2 million taxpayer dollars responding to wolf attacks on livestock. 

ESA protections were intended to provide short-term support for species recovery — they were not supposed to turn into permanent classification. Yet, over the last 45 years, less than 2 percent of the total species listed have eventually been delisted (42 distinct species out of 2386 to be exact). Current federal regulations make it much easier for the FWS to list a new species than to delist a species. The threshold for listing and delisting should be the same and one shouldn’t carry more weight than the other. Clearly, several of the bureaucratic processes for delisting recovered species have broken down or failed entirely. 

The costs associated with species listings are significant. Such status imposes financial requirements on private landowners, businesses and states. Further, in some instances important economic activities are prevented from moving forward due to critical habitat designations that lock up land use. For example, a case will be coming before the Supreme Court in October to determine whether the FWS had the authority to designate more 1,500 acres of private land in the state of Louisiana as critical habitat for a frog, even though the frog does not exist in this area and the acres designated do not have the characteristics necessary to support the frog’s recovery.

Radical environmental groups exploit false or fraudulent data and flood the system with petitions in order to cause species that don’t need protections to be listed as threatened or endangered.  Oftentimes, newly-discovered or poorly-understood species are quickly listed and later turn out to be ecologically abundant. This leads to unnecessary burdens for those impacted by fraudulent listings. According to the FWS, listing errors have occurred at least 20 times. 

The Arizona Farm Bureau warns that “as the law is written today, the Fish and Wildlife Service is forced to rely on existing data however faulty it might be, and petitioners know this and use the lack of scientific evidence to force listings.”

The Western Caucus ESA modernization package is long overdue and will help species that are actually threatened or endangered to increase in population while also ensuring listing and delisting decisions are made as a result of the best available science – not as a result of special-interest litigation or agendas.

Biggs represents the 5th District of Arizona and is chief regulatory reform officer of the Western Caucus. Gosar represents the 4th District of Arizona and is chairman of the Western Caucus.