November 2013 Legislative Threats to the Endangered Species Act


This month, Congress was very busy, apparently trying to get things done before the holidays, following which the budget battle will consume Hill activity for who knows how long.

In the crazy bill introduction category, Sens. Paul (R-KY), Lee (R-UT) and Heller (R-NV) and  Rep. Amodei (R-NV) introduced companion bills entitled the “Endangered Species Management Self-Determination Act” (H.R. 3533; S. 1731), which give complete control over endangered species management to states – regardless of whether such states actually want to do what’s best for imperiled species or are equipped to do so. Additionally, it would require the consent of governors and passage of a joint resolution by Congress to list new species, leaving protections to politics—not science.  And it would delist species after five years, regardless of whether they have recovered.

                                              (C) Fish and Wildlife Service

What’s funny is that the bill’s sponsors actually pretend it will enhance endangered species protections, with Sen. Paul stating that the “bill will better protect endangered species by allowing a more tailored response as implemented by the states." This just shows that these representatives know the public supports the ESA and are thus trying to cover up the destruction their bill would do to the Act and the critters it protects.

The Senate Energy and Commerce Committee also marked up a bunch of bills including a truly terrible grazing bill (S. 258), which, among other things, exempts “trailing” of domestic livestock from environmental review, even though this practice – which involves ranchers grazing sheep or cattle on a broad area going from one point to another as opposed to on a discrete piece of land or allotment for a fixed time – leads domestic sheep to interact with bighorn sheep and transmit diseases to these iconic species. In one incident in 2009, bighorn contact with domestic sheep in the mountains of Nevada resulted in the deaths of 88 bighorns and one mountain goat—one-third of the entire population in that particular region. 

The Senate Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining also held a hearing on a slew of bills, including an anti-ESA one: S. 1479. Not only would S. 1479 wreak havoc on threatened and endangered species through a gross expansion of logging and grazing, but it also fundamentally undermines the ESA through major changes to the implementation of listing decisions, recovery plans, and critical habitat designations. For example, the bill seems to encourage listing decisions made on factors outside of the best available science and the needs of species.

Lastly, conference negotiations continued on the Farm bill and Water Resources Development Act, which I wrote about here last month. The conference committees will attempt to wrap these up when they return after Thanksgiving.