COLUMN: Modernizing the ESA Promotes Species Recovery

January 13, 2020
Weekly Column and Op-Ed

As we know all-too-well in Central Washington, Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing and delisting decisions have huge, lasting impacts on local communities and environments. The ESA was signed into law to protect and revitalize species of endangered or threatened animals and wildlife, but as time passes, the outdated law has had increased negative effects on local communities—where the true impacts of species recovery unfold.

Unfortunately, the law has been used as a political spearhead for frivolous litigation that can negatively affect private property rights, public land use decisions, and American jobs. And like many other regulations coming out of the nation’s capital, relying on top-down decisions from bureaucrats only limits economic prosperity, local conservation efforts, and the celebration of recovered species.

Under current law, only conservation efforts taking place within the critical habitats of endangered or threatened species are considered during environmental reviews or impact studies of federal actions. But we know that habitats and ecosystems expand beyond arbitrary government-drawn lines.

That is why I introduced the Weigh Habitats Offsetting Locational Effects Act, or the WHOLE Act. 

The WHOLE Act would ensure that all conservation measures are considered when federal decisions that impact ESA-listed species are being made. By establishing a process that considers the totality of conservation efforts, we incentivize private investment in species recovery, streamline federal decision-making, and promote the comprehensive efforts of states, local communities, and tribes. 

Efforts to strengthen the ESA are – and have been – ongoing. This legislation is part of a larger legislative package of 18 bills introduced by Members of the Congressional Western Caucus, a group of 75 representatives who focus on addressing issues impacting local communities in the rural West and beyond, including strengthening and modernizing the ESA. As a Western Caucus Member, I am proud to work with my colleagues to advance priorities like this for Central Washington.

Another piece of legislation introduced by Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT) is the LIST Act, which creates a straightforward process for the Secretary of the Interior to delist a species when it is deemed fully recovered. In Washington state, the gray wolf has demonstrated very clearly how the continued federal listing of a recovered species can negatively affect local communities. This bill would promote the original congressional intent of the ESA: protect and recover a species, then remove it from the list.

The package also includes efforts I have supported in the past, such as ensuring the best available science is used to make ESA listing decisions and providing more transparency by making this data publicly available.

By bringing the ESA into the 21st Century, the Western Caucus aims to create a more comprehensive, streamlined approach to species recovery, while ensuring our communities are not burdened by overregulation and misleading data.

We should not tie our hands when it comes to species recovery. Using the best available science, considering all ongoing conservation measures, streamlining the process for listing decisions, and empowering state and local efforts will create a comprehensive approach to advance species recovery and fulfill the true intent of the ESA.

The ESA was created to protect and recover endangered and threatened species. We must remain committed to this shared goal by strengthening and modernizing the Endangered Species Act for future generations. The WHOLE Act and these legislative efforts put forward by the Western Caucus are a strong step forward.