Enacted in 1973, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was intended to prevent the extinction of species by recovering them and removing them from the threatened and endangered species list.
Two decades have passed since ESA was last reauthorized. Despite its worthy goal, ESA, as it stands now, is failing — evidenced by the fact that less than two percent of listed species have been declared recovered since ESA was enacted.
Livestock producers have had to bear the brunt of severe land and resource restrictions and countless lawsuits, brought by environmental extremists and funded by taxpayer dollars.
Concerns with the ESA
Environmental groups use the ESA as a weapon against farmers and ranchers.
Livestock producers bear the brunt of severe land and resource restrictions and countless lawsuits, which are brought by environmentalists funded by taxpayer dollars.
These groups abuse the law by constantly petitioning to add new species to the ESA list. Their barrage of petitions causes missed deadlines, which enables them to sue the government and reap taxpayer dollars as compensation, costing the federal government and ranchers millions of dollars and draining resources away from real recovery efforts.
The ESA is currently administered with little regard to economic cost/benefit analysis.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service have entered a settlement agreement with environmental groups that will require them to make decisions on 1,053 species by 2016, which will cost the government (and ultimately taxpayers) more than $200 million.
The method of delisting recovered species is cumbersome. Changing the law to expedite delisting of species whenever the best available science indicates that recovery goals have been met is necessary.
Livestock grazing is inaccurately blamed for detracting from conservation efforts.
The best scientific and commercial information available shows livestock grazing to be compatible with or helpful to achieving conservation efforts.
Specific Issues within the ESA
Greater Sage Grouse
The Greater Sage Grouse has been mentioned for the endangered species list since 2010, but was deferred from classification because other species were more urgently imperiled. Currently, the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service manage most of the remaining Sage Grouse habitat in the West, and have revised about 100 land-use plans covering 67 million acres specifically to improve grouse management and take better care of that habitat.
Black-Footed Ferret Recovery
Black-footed ferrets once numbered in the tens of thousands, but were brought to the brink of extinction in the 20th century. In 1987, scientists captured the remaining ferrets, which provided the foundation for a successful breeding and reintroduction program. As a result of these efforts there are currently more than 1,000 black-footed ferrets in the wild, and another 300 living in breeding facilities.
Prairie dog towns have been identified as a target for the reintroduction of black-footed ferrets because black-footed ferrets eat prairie dogs and live in their burrows.
NCBA and PLC support reintroduction of black-footed ferrets as a biological control method if the populations are classed as “experimental-non-essential,” inside or outside the reintroduction areas. Further, this classification would not preclude any prairie dog control which may be necessary, would not negatively impact existing private property and business interest rights, and would not preclude normal management practices and multiple use management.
Grizzly Bears and Wolves
Grizzly bears and wolves are classified as “endangered species.” Good range management practices cannot be conducted in livestock grazing areas where bears, wolves and other predators are prevalent. Federal agencies have acknowledged that the number of sheep and cattle allotments, stocking rates and distribution of livestock did nothing to preclude recovery of the grizzly bear.
NCBA and PLC oppose any land or resource plan amendments that require or encourage any removals of livestock grazing or reduction in animal months due to grizzly bear conservation.
Also, NCBA and PLC request that the government agencies and/or livestock producers be granted the authority to discourage predation by predators such as grizzly bears and wolves whenever they are harassing, chasing, injuring, or killing on domestic livestock grazing areas.
NCBA and PLC strongly oppose the expansion of existing designation of “ecosystems” that give priority to predator recovery over livestock grazing.
In accordance with the best available science, NCBA and PLC support the delisting of the wolf and grizzly bear from the ESA so that control of these species may be turned over to the appropriate state authority.
Warm Water Fish Research
Most fish research relied upon as a basis for decision making by the Fish and Wildlife Services (FWS) and others has been based on habitat requirements of cold water fish. The use of that data to inform native warm water fish management decisions in the southwest is not scientifically supportable due to significantly different species habitat and survival requirements. And the science exists – scientists at the Rocky Mountain Research Station have been doing research on listed native southwestern warm water fish and have compiled over a decade of data on Arizona and New Mexico streams.
Warm water fish research needs to be continued and targeted on grazing/fish population interactions in order to inform federal management of warm water streams and adjacent Bureau of Land Management (BLM) grazing allotments.
NCBA and PLC support continued research to develop a scientific basis for federal land management actions to promote recovery of native warm water fish populations.
A Path Forward
The ESA needs to be modernized to ensure it works the way the American people think it works. These include:
Relevant Legislation in the 115th Congress