On Wednesday, July 19, 2017, the House Committee on Natural Resources held a legislative hearing to review five bills seeking reform or improvement of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Enacted in 1973 by President Richard Nixon, the ESA sought to save imperiled species from extinction but is currently viewed by many as a legal foundation for endless lawsuits and for overreach by both the executive and judicial branches.
Since 1973, more than 1,500 species have been listed as endangered or threatened under the law, yet only 23 species have been delisted. This translates into a recovery rate of just one percent, even though many of the listed species have rebounded.
SCI has led or assisted litigation efforts over many years to help support the delisting of species that have recovered and meet ESA requirements for the removal of federal protection. Hunters, wildlife conservationists, and State wildlife managers have all played a significant role in recovery efforts but those efforts have frequently been defeated due to ambiguities or flaws in the wording of the ESA.
The House Natural Resources Committee hearing set the stage for a discussion of some of the many bills recently introduced by legislators who seek to remedy problems with the ESA. At the hearing the committee members listened to testimony from a panel of experts including Glenn Hegar, Texas Comptroller; Greg Sheehan, Acting Director of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; David Willms, in his capacity as Policy Advisor to Wyoming Governor Matt Mead (note that David is a member of SCI’s Legal Task Force); and Kent Holsinger, a partner in Holsinger Law LLC. Several of the legislators who had introduced the bills also testified. The bills included -
--H.R. 424, introduced by Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, which would direct the Secretary of the Interior to reissue final rules to delist gray wolf populations Wyoming and the Western Great Lakes. Similar legislation is being advanced in the Senate by Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming. SCI has participated in numerous lawsuits to defend the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s repeated attempts to delist the two recovered populations of the gray wolf species.
--H.R. 717, introduced by Rep. Pete Olson of Texas, which would amend the ESA to require the consideration of the economic cost of adding a species to the list of endangered or threatened species. The bill’s informal name is the “Listing Reform Act.”
--H.R. 1274, introduced by Rep. Dan Newhouse of Washington, which would amend the ESA to require that all data used to make an ESA listing determination be made available to State, local, and tribal governments. The “State, Tribal, and Local Species Transparency Act” would also provide a statutory definition for “best scientific and commercial data available” to include all data received from state, local, tribal or country governments.
--H.R. 2603, introduced by Rep. Louis Gohmert of Texas, which would amend the ESA to clarify that nonnative species in the United States shall not be treated as endangered or threatened for purposes of the ESA. The bill’s formal name is the “Saving America's Endangered Species Act” or “SAVES Act.” If enacted the bill would effectively make certain populations of species (e.g. scimitar-horned oryx, dama gazelle, and addax) raised and conserved on privately owned ranches, not subject to federal ESA protections and prohibitions.
--H.R. 3131, recently introduced by Rep. Bill Huizenga of Michigan, seeks to amend the ESA to conform citizen suits filed under the ESA to other existing laws. The “Endangered Species Litigation Reasonableness Act” proposes to prioritize resources towards species protection by limiting attorney fee awards to prevailing parties in certain types of ESA lawsuits.
As these legislative efforts proceed, either as a reform package or as standalone bills, SCI will provide updates or issue action alerts as needed. Please stay tuned as SCI monitors these encouraging events.