The Verdict is in: It's Time to Bring the ESA into the 21st Century

This week, Members of the Western Caucus and stakeholders held a roundtable discussion and unveiled a draft legislative package currently comprised of 19 bills to modernize the Endangered Species Act. The following are excerpts from yesterday's event: 

Western Caucus Chairman Paul Gosar (AZ-04): "Our ESA roundtable with real people impacted by ESA listings was a huge success! Participants with a seat at the table flew all the way from California, Colorado, Idaho, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Tennessee, the State of Washington and elsewhere to engage in a lively discussion on the need to modernize the Endangered Species Act. It was a nice contrast to the hearing held by the Natural Resources Democrats seeking to move the country backwards by repealing three modernization regulations just implemented by the Trump Administration. The draft legislative package unveiled by the Western Caucus this week includes 6 bills that were included in our ESA Modernization package last Congress, 3 other bills from Western Caucus members offered last Congress, seeks to codify the 3 regulations recently finalized by the Trump Administration, and has 7 new draft bills that I am really excited about including legislation that would protect private property rights, encourage voluntary conservation, improve forest health in order to protect species and local communities, increase multiple use activities and protect critical infrastructure."

Chairman Emeritus Rob Bishop (UT-01): "This program is probably the least efficient and least effective program in the pantheon of federal programs."

Executive Vice-Chairman Scott Tipton (CO-03): "We need to make sure we have a program that is actually working to rehabilitate endangered species... the best way to do that is at the local level."

Chief Infrastructure and Forestry Officer Bruce Westerman (AR-04): "The purpose of the Endangered Species Act is straightforward: to protect species. However, the intent of the ESA never was and never should be a tool to advance radical political agenda."

Vice-Chairman for Indian Affairs and Oceans Don Young (AK-At Large): "I'm the last member of the House who voted for the Endangered Species Act when it passed... it was never meant to be as it has been used. I've watched this Act destroy the West."

Chief Wildlife and Water Officer Tom McClintock (CA-04): "If you look at the broad scoreboard, in the forty-six year history of the ESA 1,900 species have been listed, only 47 have been recovered."

Chief Regulatory Reform Officer Andy Biggs (AZ-05): "I'm very excited about this ESA reform package that builds on last years efforts as well as the fantastic progress the Trump administration is making rolling back excessive and often nonsensical wildlife regulations."

"We are incredibly proud of the regulations we have just released. These regulations will help endangered species instead of hinder them." - Karen Budd-Falen, Deputy Solicitor for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Department of the Interior

Congresswoman Debbie Lesko (AZ-08): "I want to applaud Karen Budd-Falen and the Trump administration for pushing back against some of these leftist ideas that hurt industry and halt growth."

Congressman Greg Gianforte (MT-At Large): "The ESA is like Hotel California, you can check out anytime you'd like, but you just can't leave." 

Congressman Jason Smith (MO-08): "There are some serious reforms that are needed to the ESA to make sure it is working properly."

Congressman Louie Gohmert (TX-01): "A lot of people have the philosophy of shoot, shovel and shut up because they cannot afford to have somebody know they have an endangered species or they will lose their livelhood and go broke."

Congressman Roger Marshall (KS-01): "I'm excited to support this package of legislation, I do believe it is a common-sense approach."

Congressman Russ Fulcher (ID-01): The Endangered Species Act has made humans the endangered species in a lot of our states because of the negative impact it has had on access and economics.

Congressman Pete Stauber (MN-08): "The Endangered Species had the best intentions in 1973, as there are some limited success stories. unfortunately this law has become nothing more than another instrument by environmental groups seeking to litigate any project regardless of science, and to the detriment of our state."

Congressman Ken Calvert (CA-42): "There are powerful special interests invested in the status quo, a status quo that is not working for people or listed species." 

"It is time for Congress to work on making important changes to the ESA. There have been very few meaningful changes to the ESA since its enactment in 1973, consequently, most species have failed to recover. It is estimated that only three percent of species have recovered under ESA, which indicates that the law isn’t working and improvements need to be made." -Courtney Briggs, Federal Legislative Director, National Association of Home Builders

"While IPAA supports protection of our most critical species on the brink of extinction, with only a two percent recovery rate, the Endangered Species Act is failing to achieve its fundamental purpose of species recovery. Instead, the ESA has become a legal tool for environmental organizations to halt economic growth and job creation, while diverting millions of American taxpayer dollars away from species recovery." -Mallori Miller, Senior Director of Government Relations, Independent Petroleum Association of America

"Here in the West, the Endangered Species Act has often been used as a means to control land, not primarily to recover species. Our members are more than happy to go above and beyond to protect species that are truly threatened and endangered, but not when the ESA is weaponized as a way to stop responsible oil and natural gas development. These bills are an important step toward modernizing the act so that it gets back to its original intent of protecting and conserving wildlife while at the same time enabling the livelihoods and economic vibrancy of rural communities across the West." -Kathleen Sgamma, President, Western Energy Alliance

"NRECA’s members provide power to 42 million Americans across 56 percent of the nation’s landmass and are greatly impacted by ESA listings, because electric co-ops serve nearly every type of American ecosystem. NRECA strongly supports legislation presented by the Congressional Western Caucus to improve the Endangered Species Act.  The proposed legislative package would modernize the Act to enhance conservation of wildlife while providing more regulatory certainty for our members. These bills will encourage voluntary conservation, bring greater efficiencies and help reduce electric cooperatives’ costs of building and maintaining critical infrastructure that provides power to rural America." -Sam McDonald, Legislative Affairs Director, National Rural Electrical Cooperatives Association

"The law should protect land owners and protect and recover species.  Neither, in my opinion, are well protected at this point.  The regulations written to implement the law should follow the intent of the law and should be subject to reauthorization, amending or repeal like other federal laws.  It’s time to bring the ESA into the 21st century." -Chris Udall, Executive Director, Agribusiness & Water Council of Arizona

"After nearly three decades since the last major changes were made to the Act, it is time that Congress prioritizes ESA-reform to review, update, and bring the law into the 21st century.  APPA urges policymakers to continue to make efforts to update and improve the ESA that make it more workable for all stakeholders." -Cory Marshall, Senior Director, American Public Power Association

"My organization strongly affirm the goals of the ESA. However, this 1973 law could stand some targeted reforms, including common-sense changes to make it work better, minimize confusion, and discourage litigation. We support peer review of ESA listing decisions and ESA section 7 consultations by a disinterested panel." -Dan Keppen, Executive Director, Family Farm Alliance

"For over 45 years, the ESA has failed at species conservation, while simultaneously trampling on property rights. It is way past time for Congress to fix this law. Reforming the law isn’t the same thing as gutting species protection. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Reforming the ESA is the only way this country will start to conserve species as Congress had envisioned a half-century ago."-Daren Bakst, Senior Research Fellow, The Heritage Foundation

"The delta smelt example, resulting in 2 lawsuits, 3 judicial hearings, 2 court orders for Fish and Wildlife Service to rework their biological opinion, a reversal of the biological opinion, a reversal of a lower court’s decision, a redirection of water for the delta smelt directly resulting in significant economic harm to farmers, agricultural related businesses and rural economies that --- and still no recovery of the small minnow species, clearly demonstrates the need to modernize ESA. Taxpayers deserve a transparent, scientifically justified process leading to better management of funds that directly correlate to proven benefits to the affected species." -Dr. Don Parker, Manager of Integrated Pest Management, National Cotton Council of America

"The package of bills discussed today would help further this goal. They provide common-sense modifications that improve the ESA and benefit species, businesses, and the federal agencies enforcing the law. We support these bills and look forward to working with you as the legislative process continues." -Jake Tyner, Manager and Associate Policy Counsel, Global Energy Institute

"The Endangered Species Act can and should be a tool to keep agricultural production in balance with the land. It should not be used to criminalize farming. Actions by the Administration and during this Congress are helping to restore that balance and make ESA more collaborative between farmers, the agencies, and conservation groups." -Jamie Johansson, President of California Farm Bureau Federation

"The Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973 with the intended purpose of conserving threatened and endangered plants and animals and their habitats.  The statute was crafted in a different era and did not anticipate the advancements we have made in science and technology or the increased interest in voluntary conservation and State and local engagement.  Over 45 years of implementation have provided a growing list of ideas on how this law can be improved. The package of bills offered by members of the Western Caucus speak directly to the longstanding need to address problems with the ESA, a law that has not been substantively updated in over three decades." -Jordan Smith, Executive Director, National Endangered Species Act Reform Coalition

"CREDA believes that modernization of the ESA can only improve transparency, reduce time and costs of compliance, bolster public support and improve species conservation and recovery through collaborative programs that are supported by reasonable statutory requirements." -Leslie James, Executive Director, Colorado River Energy Distributors Association

"We must improve the ESA so that species recovery and habitat conservation is driven by collaborative, consensus driven efforts that protect the needs of local communities. Counties urge Congress to act on ESA modernization quickly." -Matthew Chase, National Association of Counties

"The Endangered Species Act has proven to be bad for wildlife because it is so often bad for people.  The ESA provides perverse incentives to landowners to do everything they can to avoid providing habitat for endangered wildlife.  Congress should enact reforms that replace the failed ESA with a non-regulatory, incentive-based program that encourages rather than punishes good stewardship of wildlife habitat." -Myron Ebell, Director, Center for Energy and Environment, Competitive Enterprise Institute 

"Congress should dictate that no species shall be listed which is not indigenous to the United States. While this seems simple and  obvious, given the current state of the Courts, it would be unwise to leave this point up to a random federal judge with their nationwide injunctive powers." -Richard Manning, President, Americans for Limited Government

"The vision of the Endangered Species Act has been lost. It is the proper role of Congress to reform the Act to limit its powers as allowed by the Constitution and to provide for an end to regulation when a species has recovered." -Robert Henneke, Director, Center for the American Future, Texas Public Policy Foundation

"Because our very livelihoods depend on the health of our environment, no one is a better conservationist than a farmer or rancher. The Arizona Farm Bureau will continue to support the fight for an ESA that reflects that same rationale. Living on a fifth-generation ranch in Pima County, I have had more than my fair share of experience with the Endangered Species Act's overreach and inefficiencies. On my desert ranch, there are currently seven layers of critical habitat - five of which are for fish. We appreciate and support the [Western Caucus] reform efforts that seek to eliminate the ineffective burdens of the ESA." -Stefanie Smallhouse, President, Arizona Farm Bureau Federation

"Associated Builders and Contractors, a national construction industry trade association with 69 chapters representing more than 21,000 members, applauds the House Western Caucus’ efforts to make important strides in modernizing the Endangered Species Act with common-sense modifications. ABC supports this proposed improvement to the ESA, which would provide more certainty to the construction industry by allowing economic and sociological impacts to be considered during the permitting process and the review of applications. We look forward to the release of the legislative package, and to continuing to work with congress on the modernization of the ESA." -Kristen Swearingen, Vice President of Legislative and Political Affairs, Associated Builders and Contractors

"Our nation’s wildlife will benefit greatly by enacting the proposed legislative package before us that will lead to modernizing the ESA. As sportsmen, we understand the need to conserve and protect wildlife populations and their habitats, as well as improve and increase opportunities for the American public to enjoy hunting and recreational shooting opportunities on our lands. We have worked very closely with many Western States to help assure that they have the proper tools to manage their wildlife habitat and populations." -Bill Simmons, Big Game Forever

"Management closures to recreational access are often not related to science but rather a desire of land managers to appear to do something in response to a species based concerns and avoid litigation. In our experiences, listing of many species is based on a lack of science and when science is developed the ESA remains a barrier to multiple use." -Scott Jones, Vice President of United Snowmobile Alliance, Executive Director of Colorado Snowmobile Association, Authorized Representative of the Off-Road Business Association

"Decisions have also been made without meaningful analysis of the economic impacts that species listings or critical habitat designations would have on the mining industry, national security and the public that all depend upon excavated minerals. There are no known breeding populations of the jaguar in the United States, and yet there are approximately 850,000 acres of ‘critical habitat’ set-aside in Arizona and New Mexico (Rosemont)" -Steve Trussell, Arizona Rock Products Association and the Arizona Mining Association, Executive Director

"Tremendous pressure has been put on New Mexico and Arizona from groups intent on cultural cleansing via the Endangered Species Act. Weaponized species include the Mexican wolf, spike dace and loach minnow, snakes, spotted owls and much more. In just the past few weeks and months, 20 to 30 year old litigation has been revived with the intent to remove natural resource use." -Caren Cowan, New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association, New Mexico Wool Growers, Inc., Executive Director

"In Colorado, limited transparency forced Garfield County to go through litigation and a FOIA process in order to review data that designated massive portions of the county as critical habitat. Once the County was able to review data it realized it was sourced from a national data set that not reflect the highly varied local geography. The County was able to provide better data, which ultimately led to the adoption of policies that benefit the species. Greater transparency and collaboration with local governments will almost always benefit species." -Ian Lyle, National Water Resources Association, Executive Vice President 

"We need to make the Act work more efficiently towards achieving its intended purpose of aiding imperiled species, not as a tool to eliminate uses that some consider undesirable, like motorized recreation, livestock grazing, and forest management." -Sandra Mitchell, Idaho State Snowmobiler Association Public Lands Director and Idaho Recreation Council  Executive Director

"Although the ESA works for preventing the extinction of species,  it does not work at promoting recovery of species. "-Jonathan Wood, Senior Attorney, Pacific Legal Foundation & Research Fellow, Property & Environment Research Center

"Properly managing federal watersheds and encouraging federal agencies to work with the agricultural community to solve local water and species challenges is imperative. Ranchers like me and others in the regulated community favor proven, collaborative partnership-driven approaches to find lasting solutions to vexing ESA-driven water and natural resources problems." -Pat O'Toole, Family Farm Alliance, President

"The process of obtaining ESA permits can impact infrastructure projects negatively, causing delays and additional costs." Emily Coyner, National Stone Sand and Gravel Association


This week, 15 Members of the Western Caucus, Karen Budd-Falen from the Department of the Interior, and more than 30 stakeholders throughout the country held a roundtable discussion on the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The Caucus also unveiled a draft legislative package currently comprised of 19 bills to modernize the ESA.

While well-intentioned, the ESA must be modernized to ensure success where it matters most: on-the-ground and outside the courtroom. With a 3% recovery rate over 46 years, the ESA needs to be updated to better protect species, and to treat property owners, states and local stakeholders as partners rather than obstacles.

Information on the discussion drafts, stakeholder testimony and the full list of roundtable participants, case studies as well as video of the entire event can be found HERE.

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