Endangered Species Act
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was signed into law in 1973 to protect animal and plant species at risk of extinction due to habitat changes or loss. It was last renewed by Congress in 1988, meaning it has been more than 25 years since Congress last made any substantial updates to the 1973 ESA law. Today, with only a two percent recovery rate, the Endangered Species Act is failing to achieve its fundamental purpose of species recovery. Instead, the ESA law has evolved into legal tool used by some environmental organizations to advance an agenda that impedes American oil and natural gas production — destroying economic growth and job creation, while diverting hundreds of millions of American taxpayer dollars away from species recovery.
A Broken Law That Does Not Help Species
Despite the significant amount of taxpayer dollars spent in the name of the ESA, the law has failed at its underlying mission of recovering and delisting species. Less than two percent of all listed species has been removed from ESA protection since 1973. Perhaps even more troubling, the data and science used to justify endangered species regulatory actions, such as critical habitat designations, are not publicly available for analysis.
Getting Worse: Regulations and Litigation
A September 2011 court settlement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and two prominent environmental groups, WildEarth Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity, determined that over 250 candidate species must be reviewed for final listing as either threatened or endangered by 2016. As a result of this mega-settlement agreement, the FWS created a “Work Plan” that covers action on listing, critical habitat petitions and other actions for over 1,000 species.
Over the past few years, independent producers have witnessed a number of actions stemming from the ESA that have resulted in limitations upon millions of acres of land. On February 10, 2016, the FWS finalized significant changes to how the ESA is administered. The new rules would include:
- Vast new authority to designate areas as critical habitat that are not currently (and have never been) occupied by a listed species. FWS seeks this authority to deal with the changes in habitat that it anticipates will result from climate change.
- “Clarification” of how adverse modification is to be determined. Unfortunately, the proposed changes fail to clarify the matter and, in fact, could result in a significant expansion of the habitat features that must be protected from “adverse modification.”
All of these changes translate to more litigation, more rulemakings and more uncertainty for independent producers.
The ESA Needs Both Oversight and Reform
IPAA supports more transparency in the listing decisions made from sound science, limiting the amount of taxpayer money spent on litigation, expanding the role for States, and, most importantly, ensuring that imperiled species and their ecosystems are protected for future generations.