Federal lawmakers are making a move to change the Endangered Species Act. On Thursday, members of the U.S. House announced legislation they say will “modernize” one of the country’s seminal environmental laws, originally passed in 1973.
Members of the House Western Caucus say the nine pieces of legislation are designed to streamline the administration of the Endangered Species Act, provide more local control and protect property rights.
At an event held outside the U.S. Capitol and livestreamed via social media, the lawmakers said only 3 percent of listed species have recovered and been successfully removed from the endangered species list.
“That means the Endangered Species Act is the most inept program we have in the federal government,” said Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah.
They highlighted proposed changes that would provide incentives to landowners, allow officials to be more selective in considering petitions to add species to the endangered species list and make it easier to remove species once they're listed.
“We’re seeing the decimation of rural communities, rural jobs and things that people need to thrive, whether it’s food, fiber, shelter,” said Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif..
Five representatives from the Pacific Northwest are members of the House Western Caucus: Washington Republicans Jaime Herrera Beutler, Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Dan Newhouse, and Greg Walden, R-Ore., and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore.
The legislation is also backed by numerous energy, agriculture, timber, mining and developer organizations, as well as hunting and trapping groups.
Susan Jane Brown, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center, says industry advocates in congress push reforms to weaken the environmental law fairly regularly, but that the Endangered Species Act remains popular among voters.
Brown says species recovery efforts have been under-funded by Congress.
She says Northwest salmon and steelhead have particularly benefited from the law.
“Because of the act, their slide towards extinction has been halted. We can do a lot better on recovering them, but at least they’re not going backwards,” Brown said. “So if you remove those protections, your back in a situation where you’re sliding backwards.”
Oregon is home to 57 species on the endangered species list. Washington has 48. California has 300.