OMAHA (DTN) -- Environmental and conservation groups tout the Endangered Species Act as a success, while opponents of the law point to a low species recovery rate and added restrictions to landowners as reasons to reform the law. A U.S. senator has unveiled legislation to do just that.
On Monday, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., released a draft version of a proposed reform bill that takes aim at making recovery efforts more transparent.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there are 2,339 species listed as endangered or threatened both in the United States and abroad. In the 44-year history of the act, fewer than 2% of listed species have recovered. There is a total of 1,162 active species recovery plans in place. The American Farm Bureau Federation estimates a cost of about $1.75 billion annually to protect species. These costs primarily are borne by farmers and other landowners.
Barrasso, chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, said in a news release that the discussion draft of the proposal is designed to improve the act's success by seeking more input from states on species recovery.
"When it comes to the Endangered Species Act, the status quo is not good enough," he said. "We must do more than just keep listed species on life support -- we need to see them recovered. This draft legislation will increase state and local input and improve transparency in the listing process. It will promote the recovery of species and allow local economies to flourish."
Barrasso worked with the Western Governors' Association in drafting the bill.
The proposed legislation would expand states' roles in conservation and species management, while make conservation actions more transparent to the public and provide regulatory certainty to landowners.
The bill would require species listings to also include recovery goals, habitat objectives and other criteria that would be established by the secretary of interior.
The Endangered Species Act has faced extensive criticism for being out of touch with life on the ground.
For example, more than 1,200 families suffered financial and personal losses in a 2001 water shutoff in Oregon's Klamath Basin. It is ground zero for how federal regulations can result in negative, real-world consequences.
Farmers who lived in the Klamath Irrigation Project managed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, watched the spigot go dry at the hands of the federal government and the Endangered Species Act. A biological opinion on the state of the lost river sucker fish, the shortnose sucker and the coho salmon pointed to low water flows in rivers and tributaries as a reason that the species were endangered.
The shutoff of water coming from the 160-square-mile Upper Klamath Lake north of Klamath Falls, Oregon, put a permanent scar on farm families downstream.
Barrasso's legislation would enable states to lead recovery efforts for listed species, including through species recovery teams. Such teams would be allowed to modify recovery goals, habitat objectives or other established criteria on species recovery.
The bill would create a system to prioritize listing petitions, status reviews and proposed final listing determinations based on the urgency of a particular species' circumstances. The bill would require the act to take into account conservation efforts and improve how federal dollars and other resources are used in the program.
In addition, the legislation would reauthorize funding for the ESA for the first time since funding expired in 1992.
Barrasso's committee has held a number of oversight hearings on the Endangered Species Act in 2017, including on Feb. 15 and May 10.
Defenders of Wildlife President and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark said in a statement the bill would undermine species recovery efforts.
"This partisan bill is all about politics, at the expense of sound science and the species that depend on it for survival," she said. "It is a reckless power grab designed to wrest away authority from scientists and wildlife experts and give it to states that lack the resources, and sometimes the political will, needed to save wildlife from extinction.
"The Endangered Species Act is a law of last resort, a necessary backstop when state actions have failed to prevent species from sliding toward extinction. Sen. Barrasso's proposed legislation has far more to do with pleasing the Western Governors Association and industries that oppose wildlife conservation than helping endangered species."
Read the draft legislation here: https://www.epw.senate.gov/…
Todd Neeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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