At the Western Governors' Association’s biannual meeting in Whitefish, Montana today, the governors passed a resolution that would undermine the Endangered Species Act—one of our nation’s most important laws.
The governors claim they "applaud the principles and intent" of the Act and simply want to "improve" it. But they – and we – know that amending the law in the current political climate would incur significant harm on imperiled species and, likely, lead many to disappear forever. Indeed, the resolution prioritizes delisting of species over listing; seeks to prevent judicial challenges of ESA decisions; suggests reducing critical habitat for species; would put states in charge of endangered species protection, despite that many have neither the resources nor the desire to do so; proposes eliminating statutory deadlines for findings under the ESA; and takes issue with the precautionary principle on which listing decisions must be based if we hope to save species in time.
Indeed, since 2015, federal legislators have introduced over 150 legislative proposals that would severely undermine the conservation of threatened and endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. This is despite that the Act enjoys broad bipartisan support, with 94% of self-identified liberals, 94% of self-identified moderates, and 82% of self-identified conservatives supporting the Act in a 2015 Tulchin Research poll. Similarly, in a 2017 poll conducted by Hart Research, approximately 75% of respondents who identified as swing voters opposed dismantling protections for at-risk wildlife. It’s also a remarkably effective law, with a success rate of more than 99%!
Fortunately, some Western governors recognize the Endangered Species Act's importance and voted against the damaging resolution. California’s Governor Jerry Brown (D) even wrote a letter to the WGA saying that “California does not support Congressional action on the Endangered Species Act” because the current Congressional climate “will not result in good conservation policy.”
There’s no doubt that Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), Chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, and Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, will use the WGA resolution as a roadmap for imminent federal legislation gutting the Endangered Species Act. But those efforts will harm the Western landscapes and economies they claim to protect. The genius of the Endangered Species Act is in the approach; not only does it prevent the extinction of individual species, but it also protects the ecosystems on which those species depend. We plan to keep it that way.