The Endangered Species Act

The Endangered Species Act (ESA), when properly implemented and funded, is intended to save all species, including our own, from irreparable injury. We protect wildlife species not only because all life deserves our respect and appreciation, but also because species serve as indicators of the health or condition of the ecosystems upon which all life depends. The ESA is a critically important law because it requires developers, politicians, biologists, industrialists – all citizens – to consider how their actions affect species and associated ecosystems.

If ever the ESA were needed, it is needed now, when development and consumption trends point to the accelerated degradation of natural habitat. Yet, despite a burgeoning public interest in and respect for wildlife and the natural world, the ESA has never been in such grave danger as it is today. A well-funded campaign of misinformation is eroding support for the Act all across the country. A congressional majority critical of federal regulations is considering proposals that, if enacted, could erode the Act’s protections.

U.S. House of Representatives, The Good News

by Julie Dudly,Chair of NvWF Endangered Species Alliance

Rep. George Miller (D-CA) introduced the Endangered Species Recovery Act (ESRA) of 1999 (HR 960). The bill has more than 70 bipartisan co-sponsors who want to strengthen current ESA protections. The bill has the backing of environmentalists, religious leaders, doctors and scientists.

HR 960 offers a reasonable set of solutions to protect endangered species, such as improving the process by which federal agencies consult with each other in the management of imperiled species. The bill also amends the “No Surprises” policy of Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs) by giving assurances to private landowners but with safeguards necessary to ensure the HCPs do not undermine the recovery of a species and are flexible enough to be revisited and changed if necessary to protect a species.

Please encourage Nevadas Representatives to become a co-sponsor of the Miller ESA Bill. You can help by sending the enclosed postcards to our Nevada representatives!

U.S. House of Representatives, The Bad News
Also in the House, Alaskan Rep. Don Young has introduced a bill that would require financial compensation to landowners and industry whose land falls under regulation by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) – essentially this bill would repeal the Endangered Species Act as it applies to private property. H.R.1142 would ensure that the ESA is rarely, if ever, enforced on private property and would redefine what is considered a taking of private property under the Constitution. The bill already has 25 House co-sponsors.

Takings measures are designed to make it easier for industry and private landowners to be compensated for mere compliance with environmental laws. Not surprisingly, this latest takings proposal — introduced under the guise of property rights protection — would be very good for developers and very bad for wildlife. How bad? To cite just one example, unless developers were paid to comply with the ESA, they would be free to exterminate endangered sea turtles and shorebirds by bulldozing their nesting beaches.

Since the ESA was enacted more than 25 years ago, courts have only decided four ESA “takings” cases on their merits. In each case, they found that the ESA did not in fact take private property. The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) strongly supports the Constitutions balanced protection of private property. In the unlikely event that a court determined that the ESA infringed property rights, payments for any actual takings would be covered by the Constitutions Fifth Amendment clause: “…nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”

U.S. Senate, The Good News
Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) is circulating a draft bill similar to the Miller ESA Bill in the Senate and is seeking co-sponsors. The bill has not yet been introduced, but Sen. Lautenberg is circulating a “discussion draft,” — showing the bill around to his colleagues and looking for their support. Senator Lautenberg would like to be able to introduce the bill with 15-20 original cosponsors in the Senate.

Please encourage Nevadas Senators to co-sponsor the Lautenberg draft bill on ESA reauthorization. You can help by sending the enclosed postcards to our Nevada representatives!

U.S. Senate, The Bad News
One of the most fundamental protections for at-risk species under the ESA, the designation of critical habitat, is under serious attack. A new bill, S. 1100, was introduced by Senators Domenici (R-NM), Crapo (R-ID) and Chafee (R-RI) which would lead to a dramatic weakening in the protection currently provided by critical habitat. There are two broad problems with S. 1100. First, it weakens the protection available for critical habitat and second, it does nothing to address the existing problems that have kept critical habitat designation from serving its intended purpose. S.1100 expands the loophole now used by Babbitt to deny critical habitat to 90 percent of all listed species. S.1100 gives a three-year window for developers, mining and timber companies to destroy critical habitat – even if that habitat is essential to recovery — while agencies go through the planning process.

Letters and calls are needed to stop this bill from moving through the Senate. Write a letter or call Nevadas Senators (listed above) asking them to oppose S. 1100 and protect species by protecting habitat. Also, send Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt a copy of your letter(s):