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Merits, problems of Endangered Species Act debated in Senate hearing

Wyoming senator seeks revisions

SHARE Merits, problems of Endangered Species Act debated in Senate hearing
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A prairie dog sits in a cage before being outfitted with a GPS collar by biologists with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources in Cedar City on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018.

Marc Weaver, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A Republican senator from Wyoming is hoping to make modifications to the Endangered Species Act that would prohibit litigation after a species was delisted for a five-year period while that population is monitored.

Sen. John Barrasso, chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, said states should have a chance to prove they can effectively manage a species once it has been determined by the federal government the population can come off the list.

Barrasso said the Endangered Species Act requires the interior secretary to monitor a species for at least five years after it is recovered and delisted.

“My legislation would delay the ability of a federal court to overturn a delisting rule during this five-year monitoring period. It does not eliminate anyone’s right to challenge a delisting rule in federal court,” he said.

“It only delays such a lawsuit so states have an opportunity to prove that they can successfully manage the recovered species. “

But ranking member Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., pointed out that such a provision makes little sense.

“It is counterintuitive (because a listing) shows state management has failed.”

Barrasso conceded that provision is a “nonstarter” for Democrats and conservation organizations, but emphasized it is a top priority for his home state and others in the West.

He added that the Endangered Species Act has not performed well.

“Since the ESA was signed into law, fewer than 3% of listed species have been recovered and delisted. This is a failure, not a success,” Barrasso said. “We must do more than just list them and leave them on life support.”

But Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and chief executive officer of Defenders of Wildlife, testified that now is not the time to undermine any of the protections afforded with the Endangered Species Act, especially since the biodiversity of ecosystems is in such peril.

Additionally, limiting public action on conservation issues is a wrong move, she said.

“Citizens’ litigation provisions are just there to help hold agencies accountable,” she said.

Many Republican senators, however, said litigation over a delisting has been used as a cudgel to hold states and economies hostage because of conservation measures trumping livelihoods — even as population goals may have been met.

Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, said his state has wrangled with the action’s protections for years.

“Although the law has a lot of important aspects to it, there have been abuses as well.”

But Clark said, if anything, states and the federal government need to be investing more drastically needed dollars to protect biodiversity, which she asserts is under assault due to climate change and development.

“The science marshaled over the past few years unequivocally illuminates with stark clarity that this is a pivotal time for wildlife and, ultimately, humanity,” she testified, pointing out that more than 10 species in the continental United States have been declared extinct in the past decade.

“So goes nature, so goes us,” she said.