The Endangered Species Act (ESA) provides a set of protections for species that have been listed as endangered or threatened and is administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Originally enacted in 1973, Congress envisioned a law which would protect species believed to be on the brink of extinction. When the law was enacted, there were 109 species listed for protection. Today, there are nearly 1,600 domestic species on the list, with 125 species considered as “candidates” for listing. Unfortunately, the ESA has failed at recovering and delisting species since its inception. In fact, less than two percent of all listed species have been removed from ESA protection since 1973, and many of those are due to extinction or “data error.”
The ESA is one of the most far-reaching environmental statutes ever passed. It has been interpreted to put the interests of species above those of people, and through its prohibitions against “taking” of species, it can restrict a wide range of human activity in areas where species exist or may possibly exist. Furthermore, it allows private special interest groups to sue anyone who they allege to be in violation of the Act.
The ESA is a litigation-driven model that rewards those who use the courtroom at the expense of those who practice positive conservation efforts. Sue-and-settle tactics currently employed by radical environmental groups have required the government to make listing decisions on hundreds of new species. These plaintiffs have been rewarded for their efforts by taxpayer funded reimbursements for their legal bills as a result.
While the ESA has had devastating impacts on many segments of our society, its impacts fall more unfairly on farmers. One reason for this is that farmers own most of the land where plant and animal species are found. The land is open, unpaved and relatively undeveloped, so that it provides actual or potential habitat for listed plants and animals. Often farm practices enhance habitat, thereby attracting endangered or threatened species to their property. ESA restrictions are especially harsh for farmers because this prevents them from making productive use of their primary business asset: land. Also, unlike other industries, farm families also live on the land that they work. Restrictions imposed by endangered species concerns also adversely impact farm quality of life.
Despite the fact that the ESA was enacted to promote the public good, farmers bear the brunt of providing food and habitat for listed species through restrictions imposed by the ESA. Society expects that listed species be saved and their habitats protected, but the costs for doing this fall to the landowner upon whose property a species is found.
We believe that farmers will respond to incentives to protect species and habitat on their privately owned lands. Instead of being forced to feed and shelter listed species on their own, farmers should receive technical and financial help to accomplish this. The ESA should provide a carrot instead of the stick it currently wields.
There are countless examples of effective voluntary conservation programs and practices that are being implemented at the state and local level. However, the scope and reach of the ESA are far more expansive today and cover situations not contemplated when it had first been created. Improvement upon the current processes and procedures would help to serve the people most affected by implementation of the law’s provisions.
Farm Bureau asks Congress to pass legislation to enhance transparency and accountability of the Endangered Species Act. Additionally, Farm Bureau believes the Endangered Species Act should not be reauthorized in its current form. The current federal ESA must be amended and updated to accommodate the needs of both endangered and threatened species and humans with complete respect for private property rights within the framework of the United States Constitution.
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