Ag Policy Blog
Todd Neeley DTN Staff Reporter

Wednesday 04/30/14

Western Ag Groups Push for Endangered Species Act Reform

Though few efforts have been made on the federal level to reform the Endangered Species Act, one western farm group is scheduled to release a white paper in May looking at the need for reform in light of mounting water supply challenges.

The Family Farm Alliance announced in its April newsletter that it continues to push for a need to reform the ESA.

The alliance said in the newsletter that it hopes to continue to build momentum from a federal working group that held meetings in February. That group concluded that the law "while well-intentioned from the beginning, must be updated and modernized to ensure its success where it matters most: outside of the courtroom and on the ground."

Alliance Executive Director Dan Keppen said in a statement, "The Family Farm Alliance believes the ESA can and should be made to work for both imperiled species and people. We appreciate and support the hard work and efforts of the ESA working group. Now it is time to consider the group's recommendations for modernizing and improving the Endangered Species Act."

The alliance said it believes the working group report is a "realistic assessment" of what many western ag groups have seen first-hand for more than 10 years -- "The ESA is broken and needs to be fixed. Fewer than 2% of the species ever listed have come off the list, and the failures under the law far outstrip the successes. Meanwhile, the economic and sociologic impacts of the ESA have been dramatic."

The white paper is expected to address what the alliance said in its newsletter are several controversial questions, including:

-Should the ESA, and our approach to species protection recognize that some species can't and don't really need to be saved? Many more species have gone extinct than now exist; is it possible or even prudent to try and stop extinction of every species out there?

-If saving species is of national importance should the taxpayers at large pay the associated costs, and should those costs be publicly displayed so the taxpayers can see where their money is being spent?

-Should we be required to consider all factors that affect a listed species before developing a recovery plan or imposing restrictions, and not just target one or two?

"Nobody is seriously arguing for an outright repeal of the ESA without replacing it," alliance attorney Gary Sawyers said in a statement.

"There is no reason why we should not be able to have an open and candid discussion about fixing the law without hearing that any proposed ESA amendment is dead on arrival or is the 'third rail' in Congress."

On March 27 the House Natural Resources Committee introduced four bills designed to improve the ESA. The committee held a hearing on the proposals April 8.

The bills include:

-H.R.4315, the 21st Century Endangered Species Transparency Act. The bill would require data used by federal agencies for ESA listing decisions to be made publicly available and accessible online.

-H.R. 4316, Endangered Species Recovery Transparency Act that would require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to track, report to Congress, and make available online: 1) funds expended to respond to ESA lawsuits; 2) the number of employees dedicated to litigation; and 3) attorneys fees awarded in the course of ESA litigation and settlement agreements.

-H.R. 4317, State, Tribal, and Local Species Transparency and Recovery Act would require the federal government to disclose to affected states all data used prior to any ESA listing decisions and require the best-available scientific data be used.

-H.R. 4318, Endangered Species Litigation Reasonableness Act to prioritize resources used for species protection and place caps on attorney's fees.

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Posted at 4:04PM CDT 04/30/14 by Todd Neeley
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