Perspective: Endangered Species Act needs changes
Saturday, October 19, 2013
Earlier this year, I joined 12 of my House colleagues to establish the Endangered Species Act (ESA) Working Group. We started this working group to examine the law’s impact on species and people over the last 40 years and to find potential improvements going forward. The working group’s membership includes members of Congress from each region of the United States to showcase the fact that ESA is not only an issue in the West or the South — but across the nation and I am proud to represent the Midwest in this new capacity.
This past week the working group hosted a forum entitled “Reviewing 40 Years of the Endangered Species Act and Seeking Improvement for People and Species.” Over a dozen witnesses were invited to testify before the forum for a discussion on just how overreaching the ESA has become. To highlight that fact, I invited Captain Bill Beacom to represent stakeholders from not only Missouri, but Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska — all states that are impacted similarly by the ESA. Captain Beacom has been a river boat captain for over 50 years navigating every major tributary of the Mississippi River and is known for his depth of knowledge regarding the ESA and its impacts.
To paraphrase, Captain Beacom told the forum that the ESA has resulted in a gold mine for lawyers representing extreme environmental groups. He pointed out that the very organizations that sue the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for improperly protecting a species do very little or nothing to help with species recovery. As such, FWS and, in our region’s case, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) often take non-science based actions they hope will benefit a species in an effort to avoid being sued.
Specifically, a FWS Biological Opinion (BiOp) from 2003 found that the endangered Pallid Sturgeon’s population had declined substantially in the Missouri River over the years, but were unable to determine the cause. Based on an assumption that construction of navigation conditions were the cause and over fear of litigation, the Fish and Wildlife Service has been having the Corps acquire private land to build shallow water habitat. Now, after several years of spending tens of millions of dollars, little more is known about the needs of the species and there is no evidence new areas of shallow water along the Missouri River have resulted in any benefit to the Pallid Sturgeon’s population.
Any person with common sense can tell you our current approach to species management and preservation is not working. Yet, it has been 25 years since Congress reauthorized or made any significant improvements to the ESA. After hearing from a wide range of witnesses from across the country during the forum, it is clear we are not alone and that changes are necessary to bring the law up-to-date.
While the ESA was created with the best intentions, it has failed to live up to its promise. The ESA intention was to recover species, yet, less than one percent of the total number of United States species listed have been recovered and removed from the list. I will continue my efforts with the working group to promote common-sense reforms to the ESA that ensure proper, results-based use of taxpayer dollars.
U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., represents the state’s 3rd District, which includes Jefferson City. His local office can be reached at 573-635-7232.
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