Another day, another ESA “reform” bill. And as usual, the latest proposal means weakening the very protections we need to save endangered species from extinction. Senator Barrasso of Wyoming introduced draft ESA legislation that would hand over responsibility for endangered species protections to states, shield delisting decisions from judicial review, and burden the already over-burdened federal agencies responsible for listing species with new requirements, deadlines, and paperwork.
But how much support for this version of reform is there, really? At the hearing on the draft bill, there were eight Democrats and only three Republicans. And the Republicans probably weren’t too happy about the testimony from their witnesses. Wyoming Governor Matt Mead emphasized the success that can come from bipartisan cooperation to save species and invited participation in his task force to examine endangered species protections before expressing soft support for only some parts of the bill. And Colorado’s Director of Parks and Wildlife emphasized that Governor Hickenlooper, who he testified for, did not take a position on the legislation but encouraged further discussion. In contrast, the Democrats’ witness, Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Matt Strickler, testified that the legislation would hamper state efforts to save endangered species, not help them.
Those aren’t exactly ringing endorsements. That’s because the ESA is a popular and successful law, and this bill isn't about reform, it's about weakening species protections. The ESA has saved 99% of species it protects from extinction and it has the support of 90% of Americans. Instead of focusing on reforming a successful law, Congress should focus on funding species recovery, so that they no longer need the protections of the Act. Unlike this flawed “reform” bill, that’s a win for everyone.