Rules will change implementation of federal ESA
California Farm Bureau Federation Ag Alert 8/14/19
by Christine Souza
Rules intended to improve implementation of the federal
Endangered Species Act would increase transparency and
effectiveness and bring administration of the ESA into the 21st
century, according to two federal agencies.
The U.S. Interior and Commerce departments released ESA
"The best way to uphold the Endangered Species Act is to do
everything we can to ensure it remains effective in achieving
its ultimate goal—recovery of our rarest species," Interior
Secretary David Bernhardt said. "An effectively administered act
ensures more resources can go where they will do the most good:
Environmental organizations and states, including California,
said they would sue to overturn the administration's actions.
Farmers and ranchers, who are often directly affected by ESA
regulations, have long advocated for modernizing the ESA so that
it effectively recovers species without unnecessarily burdening
Erin Huston, California Farm Bureau Federation federal policy
consultant, said Farm Bureau expressed support for the ESA
Noting that only about 2% of species on the ESA have been
recovered, Huston said, "We are all about making the ESA work
better for species and for resource managers. It's our view that
all of the stakeholders must recognize there is a better way; we
can do things more efficiently."
Specific changes finalized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
and the National Marine Fisheries Service apply to ESA sections
4 and 7. Section 4 involves adding or removing species from ESA
protections and designating critical habitat. Section 7 covers
consultations with other federal agencies.
The regulations retain language stating, "The Secretary shall
make a (listing) determination solely on the basis of the best
scientific and commercial information regarding a species'
According to the agencies, the revisions clarify that the
standards for delisting and reclassification of a species
consider the same five statutory factors as the listing of a
species in the first place.
The Trump administration said it recognizes the value of
critical habitat as a conservation tool, but adds that in some
cases, designation of critical habitat is not prudent.
To ensure federal government actions would not likely jeopardize
the continued existence of listed species or destroy or
adversely modify their critical habitat, federal agencies must
consult with the wildlife agencies under Section 7. The
administration said its revisions clarify the interagency
consultation process and make it more efficient and consistent.
In addition to the final joint regulations, the Fish and
Wildlife Service finalized a separate revision rescinding its
"blanket rule" under ESA Section 4(d). That rule had
automatically given threatened species the same protections as
endangered species unless otherwise specified.
The National Marine Fisheries Service had never employed such a
blanket rule, so the new regulations bring the two agencies into
alignment, the administration said, noting the change affects
only future listings or reclassifications and does not apply to
species already listed as threatened.
American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said the
administration's ESA reforms serve the needs of species as well
as people most affected by implementation of the law's
"Keeping species on the endangered list when they no longer face
the threat of extinction takes valuable resources away from
species that still need ongoing protection under the ESA,"
Duvall said. "These new regulations will provide much-needed
consistency in the listing and delisting process, to better
allocate critical resources to species in need."
He added that the administration's approach "will eliminate
unnecessary time and expense and ease the burden on farmers and
ranchers who want to help species recover."
The final regulations may be found
(Christine Souza is an assistant
editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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