Congress must act to modernize the Endangered Species Act

As the new year begins, millions of people around the world will commit to new year’s resolutions. It is high time for Congress to do the same. With people turning to new gym memberships, diets, and establishing good habits, Congress should resolve to modernizing one of the most outdated laws on the books: The Endangered Species Act.

Signed into law in 1973, the Endangered Species Act has simply failed to live up to its noble intent of rehabilitating plants and animals at risk for extinction. In fact, the ESA has an abysmal recovery rate of just 3 percent. Instead it has become a tool wielded by serial litigants to stop a plethora of projects from critical infrastructure, to renewable energy projects. If your resolution is to head to the gym more frequently, but you only went 3 percent of the time, you would probably be disappointed with your desired results.

As chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus, I’ve heard from concerned communities around the country who have been impacted by the outdated and often abused ESA. That’s why in September the Western Caucus brought together a wide array of stakeholders to discuss legislative proposals to modernize the ESA for the 21st century. Representatives from industry groups, the administration, small businesses, and more than 20 members of Congress hunkered down for an afternoon of policy talk.

At the roundtable, Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.) told the tragic story of a 13-year old girl who perished near the north fork of the White River. While swimming, the young girl became trapped underneath a broken dam that was damaged during severe flooding years before. The owners of the dam were unable to obtain permits to repair or remove the dam due to the Ozark Hellbender. The mere possibility of the salamander’s presence near the dam meant the operators were unable to make necessary repairs that could have saved the life of this young girl. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Members of the Western Caucus this week unveiled detailed plans to modernize the ESA to better protect species, and to treat property owners, states and local stakeholders as partners rather than obstacles. Detractors will argue this bill package is designed to weaken or destroy the act, but the reality is these bills strengthen the ESA by requiring actual science that is standardized, transparent and publicly available in order to make better policy decisions. Another key to improving recovery rates for plants and animals is empowering states and affected stakeholders to be part of the solution.

The status quo of the ESA is emblematic of government at its worst: costly, burdensome and uncertain. Whether or not you’re able to keep your 2020 resolutions, the Congressional Western Caucus will remain laser-focused on making government work better for the people and more responsive to their needs. The package of bills introduced this week will protect private property rights, encourage voluntary conservation, improve forest health in order to protect species and local communities, increase multiple use activities and protect critical infrastructure.

Gosar represents Arizona’s 4th District and is chairman of Congressional Western Caucus.

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