By: Niels Hansen
Special to The Hill, October 4, 2016
Enacted in 1973, the Endangered Species Act was intended to prevent the extinction of species through recovery and removal from the threatened and endangered list. However, after more than four decades, the ESA is failing with a recovery and delisting rate of less than two percent. It is woefully clear to all stakeholders that this is not an effective way to manage species recovery. Between the avalanche of petitions and sue-and-settle tactics from activist groups, emphasis and resources are not being placed where they are needed to boost the population of species that are currently threatened.
In this vein, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took steps last week that would recognize and correct certain of the deficiencies in the listing provisions of the Act. Specifically, FWS released a final rule that would limit petitions for new listings to one species and require more substantial justification in order to file a petition. This rule was immediately supported by groups engaged in true conservation because they saw, like we do, that the only way to preserve endangered species is to focus our resources on those that are truly threatened.
Unfortunately, common sense reform of the ESA must not only overcome objections from radical environmental groups, it must also overcome foot stomping from members of Congress like House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.). Rather than embrace the prevailing concept that a working ESA not only allows for the listing of species, but also the recovery of species, Rep. Grijalva has sent a list of demands to FWS that would add further steps to the delisting process. The request from Rep. Grijalva refers to the delisting of grizzly bears from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and demands that any post-listing conservation strategy require “clear and enforceable measures” to ensure a stable population along with a plan to address potential impacts of climate change on the grizzly’s habitat – in other words, Mr. Grijalva would like the post-listing to maintain all the restrictions of the current listing, plus a few additional items.
The best available science which has been accepted by the FWS has clearly established that the recovery level for the grizzly bear in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem has been met and exceeded. And state management plans developed by Idaho, Montana and Wyoming assure that these population objectives will continue to be met into the future. The added demands of Rep. Grijalva and the radical environmental groups that he represents serve only to delay the delisting process and add frustration to those trying to achieve real species conservation.
Not only do these requests hamper future state and federal conservation efforts for the grizzly, but they set a precedent for every delisting effort going forward; a major goal of Rep. Grijalva’s home-district ally – the Center for Biological Diversity. The Greater Yellowstone grizzly population has been a great example of how the ESA can work to stabilize the population of a species and then return that species to state management. Rather than allowing for a transition to species recovery and focusing limited resources where they are needed, these restrictions would maintain unnecessary listing protections and squander precious resources.
Adding layers of red tape will only perpetuate the dismal failure of ESA species recovery. Lasting benefit can only be achieved with an ESA focused on species recovery and returning control to state and local authorities. Healthy conservation must take a bottom up approach working with ranchers, conservationists and state and local governments; it must recognize success by delisting species when recovery goals have been met.
Niels Hansen is Wyoming Stock Growers Association President and Public Lands Council Secretary/Treasurer.