Bid to Update Endangered Species Act Triggers Alarm

WASHINGTON (CN) – Republicans appeared cordial Wednesday at a hearing on updating the Endangered Species Act, but conservationists who have seen an unending stream of explicit threats to the law’s existence over the years proved weary of lowering their guard.

Though the 1973 law has not been updated in 30 years, this morning’s hearing at the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works comes just two months after Rep. Rob Bishop, a Republican from Utah, told a House Rules Committee that he “would be happy to invalidate the Endangered Species Act.”

The Center for Biological Diversity has counted more than 200 challenges to the law since 2011, all years in which House Republicans have been in majority.

Defenders of Wildlife CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark told the committee outright that modernization is often used as a “euphemism for undermining or weakening the act.”

Clark conceded that there is room for improvement but said that won’t happen if the law is “starving.”

“The chipping away at the funding fabric and the ability offered to state agencies to save the species at risk of extinction is very dire,” Clark said.

Sen. James Barasso, a Wyoming Republican who also chairs the committee, offered conservationists a small token of compromise.

“The vast majority of Americans agree that the Endangered Species Act is important; 63 percent of registered voters recently polled favored updating the act,” he said. “But only 10 percent oppose modernization. Maybe we don’t agree on what the changes are, but we do agree that change is needed.”

Wyoming Gov. David Freudenthal blamed the federal government for inefficiencies in implementation of species-management prescriptions and other provisions of the law.

“The goal posts are always moving,” Freudenthal said,

Sen. James Inhofe echoed the governor’s testimony about depoliticizing the process of placing vulnerable populations on the Endangered Species List is rife with politicization.

“States seem to be ignored during the [listing] process,” he said. “And delisting, just never happens.”

Inhofe cited the efforts his state of Oklahoma took, along with New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas and Texas, to deal with the region’s endangered lesser prairie chicken, absent federal interference.

Under a five-state partnership, and in collaboration with various state agencies and conservation groups, Inhofe said the collaboration succeeded in having the fowl delisted.  A federal judge in Texas eventually ruled that the Fish and Wildlife Service’s efforts to keep the bird protected did not properly consider all of the active conservation efforts that were underway for the bird.

Freudenthal agreed that state control is the way to go.

“There’s too much sand in the gears to get [the Endangered Species Act] where it needs to go,” the governor said. “We would be better off employing resources of the state.”

James Holte, president of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, recommended that the federal government work “with states in an incentive-based program.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shares the responsibility of implementing the Endangered Species Act with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Fish and Wildlife touts that 99 percent of the species listed as protected under the act have been saved from extinction.

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