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Congressman Rob Bishop

Representing the 1st District of Utah

Why is U.S. Recovery Rate (2%) for Endangered Species So Low?

February 4, 2014
Press Release
WASHINGTON— Today, Congressman Rob Bishop (UT-01) joined with fellow members of the Congressional Endangered Species Act (ESA) Working Group in releasing a report that examines the past and present effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act. The report also makes recommendations for improvements to the now 40-year old law.  

"The intent of the Endangered Species Act when it was first drafted was noble and the report acknowledges the continued need for the Endangered Species Act. Unfortunately, however, since its introduction in 1973 the law has been co-opted by activist special interest groups as a tool to snuff out multiple use of our lands and resources. In the last four decades, 1500 species have been listed and efforts are presently underway by certain non-government groups to unjustly add hundreds more," said Congressman Bishop.

The report is the result of more than eight months of careful examination and analysis of the ESA. The report includes input from differing viewpoints and angles on the efficacy of the ESA as it is currently considered and implemented. The report contains comments and considerations from outside individuals as well as testimony from nearly 70 witnesses who appeared before the Working Group and House Natural Resources Committee hearings. 

"The goal of this report is to identify areas where the law can be improved so that we can return to the original intent of species recovery and away from the current litigation-based model. The success rate of this law in its current form is abysmal.  The report identifies the need for greater local and state involvement, a heavier reliance on proven science, and a review of how the settlements are made and special interest groups are paid with taxpayer dollars. I found it exceptionally concerning that state recovery efforts are being disregarded, despite their proven record of success. I was also concerned by the lack of transparency that accompanies the settlement and repayment process. It is deeply troubling to see that special interest groups are acting as a shadow government, dictating listings of species," Bishop added.

Key concerns identified in the report:

  • In the last 40 years, 1500 species have been listed (pg. 3)
  • only 2% have been recovered (pg. 2)
  • The federal government annually awards attorney's fees to plaintiffs (special interest groups), however, the exact amount spent by the American taxpayer is unattainable (pg. 6)
  • The last authorization for federal dollars to fund ESA occurred in 1988 with caps for each fiscal year through 1992. Every year since then, Congress has appropriated funds for ESA-related activities despite the expiration of the statutory authorization. (pg. 6)
  • Despite a 2% success rate, a representative from Wild Earth Guardians (WEG) stated that "increasing the rate of recovery will require more, not less, protective regulations—the type of regulations that have the potential to affect the economic activity." (pg. 7)
  • ESA litigation has increased the federal government's inability to control catastrophic wildfires (pg. 9)
  • In May and July 2011, the Obama Administration negotiated and agreed to two "mega settlements" mandating that over 250 species be reviewed for final listing as either threatened or endangered. These settlements combined 13 federal court cases and more than 85 lawsuits and legal actions made by the two special interest groups: Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and Wild Earth Guardians (WEG) (pgs. 7, 8)
  • 201/250 resulted in new listings or proposals to list by the Fish and Wildlife Service (pg. 8)
  • FWS acknowledges that less than 5% of more than 1,500 species on the ESA list are improving (pg. 13)
  • More than 30% of delisted species were removed from the ESA due to data errors indicating they should have never been listed (pg. 15)
  • The FWS has taken the position that it is not required to act on delisting of a species unless and until "an interested party" petitions for action and then follows up with a lawsuit. (pg. 16)
  • Property rights advocates note that farming, livestock grazing, and timber production is regularly prohibited by ESA (pg. 18)
  • One biologist stated that "the collective needs of non-human species must take precedence over the needs and desires of humans (pg. 21)
  • The BLM's National Technical Team's (NTT) used opinions rather than science when drafting its report on the Greater Sage Grouse (pg. 22)
  • The FWS decision to list the Greater Sage Grouse is based on a taxpayer-funded report done by Edward O. Garton. The data used in the study is not available to the public (pg. 23)
  • In 2012 the Department of Justice (DOJ) stated that they had case information on 613 ESA-related cases…537 of which were cases where federal agencies were sued under the ESA (pg. 27)
  • The Department of Interior (DOI) acknowledged that the settlement agreements require federal officials to meet annually with environmental groups to review the status of the settlements. These meetings are CLOSED to the public (pg. 28)
  • From 2000-2010, ESA was the most expensive and litigious statute for DOI [$22 million] (pg. 29)
  • There is no statutory requirement to keep records of litigation expenditures (pg. 30)
  • Some attorneys representing special interest groups have been reimbursed at rates as much as $500 per hour (pg. 31)
  • Documents from the FWS show that environmental groups have filed notices of intent to sue if the government does not make species-specific findings on more than 400 species in a three month time-frame (pg. 34)
  • The bipartisan Western Governors' Association has raised concerns that state's role of species management under ESA and current implementation practices is "largely optional and has been provided by the federal government inconsistently." (pg. 35)
  • The FWS failed to properly notify a county and landowners on a proposal to list a subspecies and the FWS had to ask permission from the Center for Biological Diversity to amend the original settlement deadline to list (pg. 38)

The report recommends the following considerations and changes to the ESA in the following four categories:

  •  Ensuring Greater Transparency and Prioritization of ESA with a Focus on Species Recovery and Delisting
  •  Reducing ESA Litigation and Encouraging Settlement Reform
  •  Empowering States, Tribes, Local Governments and Private Landowners on ESA Decisions Affecting Them and Their Property
  • Requiring More Transparency and Accountability of ESA Data and Science