House Republicans want to ‘repeal and replace’ the ESA

After attempts to chip away at the law bill by bill, Utah Rep. Rob Bishop says he’d rather scrap the Endangered Species Act altogether.


The delta smelt, a tiny, silvery-blue fish hanging on for survival in California’s San Francisco Bay and Sacramento-San Joaquin estuary, is notorious among opponents of the Endangered Species Act. Efforts to help the smelt have contributed to farm closures, and water reductions for households and businesses, letting more water flow towards the smelt’s habitat. And yet since 1993, when the fish was listed as threatened, the smelt has only slid further toward extinction, making it an oft-cited example of how the ESA doesn’t work for people or fish, wildlife and plants. 

Utah Congressman Rob Bishop is one of the House Republicans who has backed a bill to increase water storage in California and weaken protections for the smelt — prioritizing “people over ideology,” Bishop wrote last year. As chair of the House Resources Committee, Bishop has become a leader of a radical, anti-environmental movement in Congress. Their agenda includes transferring public lands from federal management to states and local governments, banning the creation of national monuments, and removing protections for existing monuments.

Bishop is even setting sights on bedrock environmental laws, leading a charge to completely repeal the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Since 1973, the ESA has enabled the federal government to recognize species as “threatened” or “endangered,” and to set rules and restrictions on human activity to protect and recover at-risk wildlife, fish, insects and plants. The act is considered a global beacon for preventing extinction, and environmentalists insist that the ESA rarely blocks development.

In the West, farming regions have been affected by delta smelt protections. In 12 years, legislature has introduced eight ESA reform bills.
Fish and Wildlife Service

But Bishop and others instead see a law that creates expensive and time-consuming regulations for landowners and industries, with few success stories. For years, they have tried to modify and weaken the law. But earlier this month, Bishop went even further and told E&E News the ESA is so dysfunctional that lawmakers may “simply have to start over again,” and “repeal it and replace it.” That might mean giving state wildlife management agencies primary responsibility for species conservation. Protections could vary widely, and since states get their funds from hunting licenses and fees, they might be tempted to prioritize game management over at-risk species.

ESA proponents have so far largely succeeded in fending off the attacks. But with Donald Trump on his way to the White House, a conservative Republican Congress, and a soon-to-be conservative-leaning Supreme Court, environmentalists and legal scholars are taking Bishop’s threat seriously.

“Any Congressional action that would weaken the Endangered Species Act at all would be pretty dramatic,” says Dan Rohlf, a professor at Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland. “What Rep. Bishop is talking about would be a major decision in the environmental history of this country.”

How did we get here? Antipathy toward the ESA has been building for years. Soon after it passed Congress with bipartisan support, a landmark 1978 Supreme Court case forced the Tennessee Valley Authority to halt construction of a dam to protect another small fish, the snail darter. The case underscored the power of the act — and rankled some conservatives. Over time, they increasingly saw the ESA as protecting middling species at the expense of economic development and growth. 

Conflicts often bubbled up during Section 7 consultations, a process that requires any project receiving federal funding or permits to prove it does not jeopardize at-risk species. Reforms followed. Under President Ronald Reagan, two major amendments made the law more flexible. They enabled developers to create plans to mitigate impacts on imperiled species while still moving their projects forward, and added protections for landowners who incidentally harmed or killed listed species.

Still, anti-ESA fury grew. When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Northern spotted owl as threatened in 1990, the agency fingered destruction of old-growth forests as a major cause of the owl's decline and basically halted logging in the region. Even though timber jobs were already dwindling, locals blamed the owl for the economic death spiral in the region. “That really did lead to a lot of political pressure on the ESA,” Rohlf says.

In 1995 House Republicans launched a fierce anti-ESA campaign. Led by Alaska Rep. Don Young and California Rep. Richard Pombo—Bishop's ideological predecessors—they pushed an ambitious “reform” bill that would have made it harder to list species, or to determine that development is impacting them. It would have also expanded financial compensation to private landowners facing stipulations to conserve habitat. Then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich somewhat surprisingly blocked the bill’s progress, recognizing the ESA’s nationwide support. 

But the attacks on the law haven’t let up since. Pombo, whose district included farming regions affected by delta smelt protections, introduced eight ESA reform bills in 12 years. He tried to strip away critical habitat designations, which can restrict land use in places considered essential for protected species’ survival. A successful 2004 amendment did exempt military installations from critical habitat designations.

The pressure further intensified under President Barack Obama, despite the administration’s restrained approach to listings that could have had far-reaching economic impacts. In 2015, for instance, the Fish and Wildlife Service decided that the greater sage grouse, with habitat across millions of acres in the West, didn’t need to be listed, in part due to voluntary conservation efforts at the state and local level. The agency also issued several less restrictive “threatened” listings for controversial species like the lesser prairie chicken and dunes sagebrush lizard. Some environmental groups have questioned the scientific credibility of those decisions, and the results have clearly accommodated rural landowners and industries who are critical of the ESA. Nevertheless, according to Defenders of Wildlife, Republicans have introduced more than 100 amendments and riders to weaken the ESA just since 2015—an unprecedented amount.

“Any attempt to appease the opposition, whether the concerns are legitimate or not, has failed utterly,” says Pat Parenteau, a Vermont Law School professor and former legal adviser to the Fish and Wildlife Service. “The more that the act has been weakened, in my view, the more adamant the opponents have become that it just be completely eviscerated.”

Meanwhile, environmentalists continue to question the very basis for Bishop and others’ efforts. Last year, Ya-Wei Li of Defenders of Wildlife and a colleague analyzed more than 88,000 Section 7 consultations between 2008 and 2015 to ground-truth the claim that the ESA blocks development. In a peer-reviewed article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Li found that the Fish and Wildlife Service determined in only two cases that development would jeopardize a listed species. No projects were ultimately stopped or extensively changed to protects plants and wildlife. Industry researchers responded that the study overlooked the high costs of simply going through the consultation process.

“The truth is the Endangered Species Act isn’t the pitbull of environmental law,” Parenteau says. “It’s a poodle.”

Joshua Zaffos is an HCN correspondent in Fort Collins, Colorado. Follow him @jzaffos.

Candace Oathout
Candace Oathout Subscriber
Dec 28, 2016 03:27 PM
The problem with the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as currently written is that it has been used to the point of abuse to reduce and restrict human activities and development. I am reminded of a pair of definitions popular in the 1990's. "The difference between an environmentalist and a developer is really rather simple. The environmentalist already owns his cabin in the woods. The developer is seeking to build one." We now have 30 plus years of scientific observation available to measure the ESA theories and results. Provisions of the management plan for the Northern spotted owl calling for preservation of old growth forest has resulted in vastly overgrown, stressed forests that cannot support the bird's food sources, rodents and other small critters that dwell on the forest floor. The overcrowded trees and undergrowth block sunlight causing failure to thrive in new growth. The dying and dead trees and ground matter provide fuel for fires that create massive conflagrations that destroy all in their path. The fires burn so intensely that the ground is sterilised and even fire dependent plant life cannot rejuvenate.

The spotted owl populations have continued to decline. Competition from the larger barred owls has reduced their habitat and interbreeding has hybridized the specie. This in addition to the loss of an entire industry that consistently produced affordable, renewable wood for housing construction. The importance of which President Theodore Roosevelt stressed when he established National Forests in the United States. There are many similar results associated with enforcement of the ESA.
Mary Mcallister
Mary Mcallister Subscriber
Dec 28, 2016 07:19 PM
The ESA is over 40 years old and the science that informed that law has changed radically, as has the climate that accommodated the plants and animals we have been trying to conserve. In “The Endangered Species Act: Static Law Meets Dynamic World” (Journal of Law & Policy, Vol, 32, 2010), Holly Doremus (Professor of Law at Boalt Law School, UC Berkeley), tells us why the law would benefit from a revision that reflects new scientific knowledge: “The ESA’s static view of species, landscapes, and conservation obligations, while entirely understandable, has become a hindrance to effective conservation. The ESA’s lofty goals of conserving species and the ecosystems upon which they depend cannot be achieved without a more realistic vision of the dynamic qualities of nature and the ability to respond to the changes that are inevitable in dynamic systems.”

Here is a specific example of the inadequacies of the ESA in the context of a specific attempt to save an endangered butterfly at Antioch Dunes in California:[…]/

If American politics were not gridlocked by the vast partisan divide, we would be able to improve the ESA without gutting it. Alas, that is not our situation. Therefore, environmentalists are trying to prevent the Republicans from killing the law, despite the fact that the law is deeply flawed. It’s a sad state of affairs, but only symptomatic of every policy issue that plagues us.
Jim Bolen
Jim Bolen Subscriber
Dec 28, 2016 11:08 PM
We need the ESA more then ever . we have lost 50% of our global populations of wild vertebrates alone.It would be worse for our country without this law. I can only assume that Mary and Candace have good intentions in their criticism and desire to modify the law. But Pombo before and Bishop now have continuously fought environmental protection in oder to protect the profits of special interests and could care less about protection of wildlife.. If populations are declining it would be worse without the ESA. How could anybody deny this. The bedrock decision that wildlife habitat was an integral part of the ESA is when the Republicans changed their minds about the law as that affected their supporter's pocketbook . But how can you save a specie without protecting it's habitat. We are simply going have to recognize that the pocket book doesn't always come first . Fragmentation of habitat and human encroachments are the biggest long term threat to wildlife populations. If we want to wildlife to exist we simply have to make sacrifices and accept that our self interest doesn't always comes first.
Tim Parmly
Tim Parmly Subscriber
Dec 29, 2016 05:57 AM
If the republicans succeed in their efforts to abolish the ESA, it will spell an end to animal protections across the US. It will cause a cascade of environmental laws being abolished and will increase the efforts to transfer public lands to the states. The republicans want public lands so their agenda of supporting mining, drilling and cattle grazing can go forward unhindered. We cannot let this happen.
Candace Oathout
Candace Oathout Subscriber
Dec 29, 2016 11:10 AM
Jim, please provide source for loss of 50% of wild vertebrates globally. We have not yet established how many vertebrate species exist worldwide so this number is impossible to determine. Such a statement does however evoke strong emotional response.
The idea that "the pocketbook comes first" is ridiculous on its face. Someone has to pick up the costs. Forcing entire industries to relocate to countries with much lower environmental standards accomplishes nothing but increasing costs and reducing prosperity here in the United States. Why is this considered a good idea? Cutting off the water supply to California's Central Valley is creating vast desolate waste lands from productive cropland and orchards. This has thrown thousands out of work, in addition, to food shortages and increased food costs while reducing food safety.

We now have 40 years or more of history of how the Endangered Species Act has worked to decimate the United States economy and forced businesses off shore. Many of the species "saved" by the ESA have been proven to never have been endangered in the first place. Alligators, bald eagles and wolves to name a few. Peirson's milk vetch reappeared in abundance after an intense rainy season in the Imperial Sands Recreation Area in California.

The idea that anyone who makes use of the land is somehow destroying it has proven false. The farmer, rancher, even the miner here in Minnesota can and do manage the lands they control with the knowledge that if they destroy it they are killing their own lifestyle. The Cuyuna Recreation Area in Northern Minnesota is the site of iron mines that were active until about forty years ago. It is now a beautiful area of lakes with abundant fish, wildlife and woodland. It is a premier recreation area for bicyclists, scuba dives, camping, and many other recreational activities. The same is true of Mount St. Helen area in Washington. The volcano that devastated the surrounding landscape in 1980.

It is past time to recognize that humans have a place in the environment too.
Tim Parmly
Tim Parmly Subscriber
Dec 29, 2016 01:15 PM
All of this is true Candace, but I feel without the ESA, how many species would have been driven to extinction. Humans tend to use up all available resources and then move on. The example I use is the Passenger pigeon. Millions and millions to zero in 3 decades. Without regs on fishing, the fishing industry would fish out all available areas. Granted, other countries do not have ESA's and don't care, but we do and we should care. And Minnesota is a great state, but other states are not and only look at the economics. There has to be more than that.
Jim Bolen
Jim Bolen Subscriber
Dec 29, 2016 03:38 PM
your argument seems to be more how the law is applied. I see nothing under the existing law that prevents flexibility in application. In fact it clearly states that it should use the best available science in applying the law which addresses your objection. I am sure you can point out actions that were counterproductive but we learn from our mistakes.
there are a number of sources like WWF and the London Zoological society that mention an approximate 50%. Of course this is an impossible to pin exactly as this is an composite figure because they are lumping the entire animal populations together where some populations may have reduced 30% while others 70%. Keep in mind I am talking about population numbers not species extinction. it is obvious that in a finite world with limited resources, something has to give . As Human population increases dramatically along with our food source(domestic animals) something has to give which is wildlife. Without a conscious effort on the part of humans we will be left with little wildlife other then species that learned to live with us to such as cock roaches, rats etc.. Not Tigers, Elephants or Grizzly bears
The intention of the law is not conspiracy to restrict human activities but to preserve species . Obviously restrictions are a by product of the law when we are putting aside habitat for wildlife. I think it is terribly unfair to say we are putting wildlife above humans when if you want to keep score it is more like humans 99, animals 1. All I am saying wildlife deserve a place on this planet so they needs to win some battles and humans lose some if we want wildlife in the future. For those humans affected we can try to mitigate the best we can. I agree that ranchers and farmers will protect their land's productivity as it is their means of making a living but that is not the same goal of preserving wildlife. The Palm oil plantations in the tropics are very productive but are a desert to native species such as orangutans.
As far as other countries; the comment that other countries are not doing it is the same argument used to stifle for climate change initiatives and if we continue follow this childish notion of "gee tommy doesn't have to" we will never accomplish anything. After all as the most powerful nation we have to be leaders. I am not opposed to putting on a carbon tax, banning palm oil etc. on our imports to level the playing field with other countries but we shouldn't sacrifice our own environmental standards
Happy New Year and hoping the Trump and his cabinet will modify some of their past views. cause if they don't listen to the 52% who didn't vote for him It will be a very tumultuous year to say the least
Mary Mcallister
Mary Mcallister Subscriber
Dec 29, 2016 03:56 PM
No, Jim, there is specific language in the ESA that is causing serious problems. It is not just a question of “implementation.” As its name implies, the heart of the law is how “species” are defined. In fact, if the law had stopped at providing legal protection for “species,” we would not be experiencing nearly as much difficulty with the implementation of the law. Unfortunately, the ESA’s “…definition of ‘species’ [is] broad, but not a model of clarity, ‘The term “species” includes any subspecies of fish or wildlife or plants, and any distinct population segment of any species of vertebrate fish or wildlife which interbreeds when mature.” (Holly Doremus, “The Endangered Species Act: Static Law Meets Dynamic World,” Journal of Law & Policy, Vol. 32: 175-235, 2010)

Splitting species into sub-species and “distinct population segments” has proved problematic because taxonomy (the classification of organisms) has always been inherently subjective and will probably continue to be. The taxonomic system that was popular at the time the ESA was passed was Mayr’s biological species concept which identifies as a species any group that interbreeds within the group but not with outsiders. This definition is not useful for a species that hybridizes freely, such as the manzanitas of which six species have been designated as endangered. Professor Doremus tells us that US Fish & Wildlife Service now evaluates the legal consequences of hybridization on a case-by-case basis.

Since the ESA was passed, many competing definitions of “species” have been proposed by scientists. There were 22 different definitions of species in the modern literature as recently as ten years ago. These competing definitions reflect disagreement about appropriate criteria for identifying species—morphology, interbreeding, or genetic divergence, as well as the degree of difference needed to define the boundary between species. We see these scientific controversies played out repeatedly in the law suits that are interpreting the ESA.

The identification of “distinct population segments” amongst vertebrates has proved to be even more problematic. Legal challenges to the determination of distinct population segments have reversed the rulings of the US Fish & Wildlife Service for many species that were considered genetically identical such as the sage grouse (eastern vs, western?) and the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse (found in different meadows in the Rocky Mountains). In some cases, these rulings were reversed several times, and perhaps will be again! These reversals reflect the ambiguity of the law, as well as the science of taxonomy. The fact that the ESA specifically allows “citizen suits” has pushed the regulating agencies to implement the law more aggressively than politics alone would have predicted.

These definitions of species were based on several mistaken scientific hypotheses, now discredited, such as a slower pace for evolution than we actually experience—particularly at a time of rapid climate change—and a presumed but non-existent equilibrium state in ecosystems.
Candace Oathout
Candace Oathout Subscriber
Dec 29, 2016 04:58 PM
In other words you are using a false to bolster an indefensible position which has been a problem in dealing with environmental issues since the 1960's. It is amazing to me that a movement "based in science" consistently uses emotional rhetoric to make their case. Mountain lions as just one example have been radio collared and tracked in Southern California. This research clearly shows that this specie is extremely adaptable to urban settings. Having lived in Utah I'm aware of anecdotal evidence that these top predators regularly come down into suburban neighborhoods where they occasionally spend the day locked in someone's garage. They usually make the evening news. Wolves and grizzlies have shown similar tendencies. I too value wildlife for its own sake but not more than a productive, economically sound nation.

The United States currently has since 1964 set aside designated Wilderness which has grown almost every year and now includes 765 areas (109,127,689 acres) in 44 states and Puerto Rico. In 1980, the passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) added over 56 million acres of wilderness to the system, the largest addition in a single year. 1984 marks the year when the most new wilderness areas were added. These figures do not include all the national and state lands designated as parks, preserves, wilderness study areas, multiple species conservation areas and the list goes on and on. The end result is that 5% of the US land mass is currently designated Wilderness while 3% is designated as urbanized which is defined as cities and inner suburbs. What do you consider the proper percentage of land mass should be Wilderness?

On the subject of renewable energy and/or taxing carbon what percentage of land mass must be dedicated to solar arrays and wind farms? We have the technology and ability to produce carbon free energy with a much smaller footprint on the land and less hazard to wildlife. Why do we continue to see non-solutions like biomass, wind and solar that are expensive, unreliable and land intensive? In the case of biomass probably unachievable. If you seriously want to reduce carbon emissions why are we not using nuclear power? We use it in our warships and submarines. Modern processors leave very little unexpended waste.

The Endangered Species Act needs to be at a minimum revised and reformed to bring it up to 21st Century standards. Its failure to provide effective mitigation for loss of access, loss of property and economic devastation is real. It is not about profits it is about living within the environment without making the same mistakes going forward.

Jim Bolen
Jim Bolen Subscriber
Dec 29, 2016 09:53 PM
your are correct on mountain lions doing well. thank god we have the public lands in the west and we regulate hunting on these magnificent animals but you cherry pick your examples . The fact is this is the only big cat that is not under some kind of endangered or threatened status. The african lion population has been reduced by 50% in the last 20 years. India had I think 100,000 tigers in 1900, it now has 3,500 approximately. Our ESA laws help prevent selling of animal parts from other countries as well.
But what falsehood are you referring to? . you surely don't believe that our overall wildlife populations have not been reduced with the massive loss of habitat. You are obviously an intelligent women and understand the finite world we live in.
We do still have a lot of open land in this country to protect habitat. how much and do we need protected? I Would say any land that merits protection. AlI the land under Wilderness, national monuments and wildlife refugees deserves to stay protected. The red rock wilderness of Utah(yea Bears Ears)and Mt Sneffels expansion are two other parcels. I am sure E.O Wilson and David Foreman of the rewilding institute can supply a better answer for you.
your right Subspecies definitions aren't always clear. I will leave that up to biologists to decide The red wolf of the south is an obvious example of a subspecies that is up for debate.
Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. If there are changes that would make the ESA more effective and addresses changing climate and ecosystems. I am all for it. I think most biologists would agree with Tim and myself that the the ESA has been for the most part effective in stabilizing animal populations and has prevented others from going extinct. Some actions were as simple as banning DDT. In hindsight I think most people think that is a good thing.
But I don't trust the Republicans, Pombo was snake and Bishop a big supporter of gas and oil.
And if proposed changes are for the sole purpose is to dilute protection in order for special interests to gain profits at the expense of species who can't speak for themselves we are going to part ways and fight it out in the political arena and picket lines ,
have a good day.
Mary Mcallister
Mary Mcallister Subscriber
Dec 30, 2016 06:58 AM
Jim seems to have missed my point and in so doing helps to make my point.

I am not advocating for the repeal of the ESA. I am merely pointing out that its flaws produce more lawsuits than it does protection for rare species of plants and animals.

If our political system were functional we could repair those flaws without killing the ESA. Jim’s defense of the existing law is an example of why that is not possible. Polarization prevents compromise and uncompromising positions prevent improvement.

There are always two sides to polarization. Yes, the Republicans are on one side, but extreme environmentalism is on the other. And Jim speaks for extreme environmentalism that cannot see any validity in the arguments on the other side of this particular debate.

I am an environmentalist, but increasingly I find myself disagreeing with others who also call themselves environmentalists. Our local issue is that extreme environmentalists demand that we destroy all non-native trees throughout the State of California, including in urban areas. These trees are performing valuable ecological functions and cannot be replaced by native trees that will not grow where non-native trees have thrived for 150 years. These extreme environmentalists also demand that non-native animals be killed, though most are not doing any harm. This is a destructive agenda that turns conservation into killing.

It takes two sides to produce the gridlock that characterizes American politics. Although I am sympathetic to the Democratic platform, I am always willing to find a compromise that we can all live with. To do otherwise, is to do nothing.
Tim Baker
Tim Baker Subscriber
Dec 30, 2016 10:43 AM
The basic problem with the Endangered Species Act is really quite simple -- we ( as a country) have never put enough money into the science or into the administration of the Act for it to be efficiently applied to where it would do what it was ostensibly designed to do; protect native biodiversity in an era of accelerating extinction caused by humans. This vacuum of knowledge seems to be the primary source of debate in the judicial system by advocates on every side of the Threatened/Endangered species argument. Republicans have largely been responsible for this shortfall but they certainly don't carry all the blame. Unless we place higher value on basic knowledge about natural systems we are going to continue down this path of blaming everything/everyone for whatever problems we perceive with the administration of the ESA rather than the real culprit. Sadly I don't see this happening in the pending administration which places little value in basic science or knowledge.
Mary Mcallister
Mary Mcallister Subscriber
Dec 30, 2016 11:35 AM
Spending more money on the ESA or many other issues is not a panacea. For example, we have some of the lowest PISA scores in the world, reflecting poor academic achievement of our students. Yet we are spending more money on education than many of the countries that are doing better than we are. Spending more money on the
Vietnam or the Iraq wars would not have produced victory. Etc., etc.

Environmentalists just lost one of the most consequential presidential elections in the history of our country. We would not have won by proposing that we spend more money on the ESA or any other environmental or social issue. Our loss would have been even greater.

Now is the time to find and use the arguments that will be comprehensible to the majority of American voters. Spending more money isn’t one of those arguments. Using that argument would increase the commitment to repeal the ESA.

Unless you are employed by the “restoration” industry, the plea for more money will not appeal to most American taxpayers, even those who are unhappy about the outcome of the recent presidential election.
Tim Baker
Tim Baker Subscriber
Dec 30, 2016 12:44 PM
Environmentalist did not lose the presidential election -- they weren't even a consideration by either major party. Aside from a handful of mentions of climate change, no one said a word about the environment though Trump did deride regulations in general and the EPA in specific. And that points to the lack of importance that the vast majority of people in the country actually place on the environment. We may talk a good game but very few want to put their money or their vote where their mouth is.

When I wrote of more money, I meant for basic science research about ecosystems and species with specific empirical data about all of the taxa in the country. Without that, we are left with either using the precautionary principle or relying on inadequate or imprecise data modeling about the actual risks to extinction. Even just funding the USFWS adequately to process the candidate species would be a huge step forward into reducing inappropriate listings or in missing a listing for an at-risk group.

No one wants to spend tax money on anything that isn't health or defense (and they begrudge spending on those) and you can see that when you look at budgets. Yet it costs money to get good data and to administer regulations.

There is no free lunch. Complaining that a law doesn't work when you won't adequately administer it is a common tactic but not a productive one.
Candace Oathout
Candace Oathout Subscriber
Dec 30, 2016 01:47 PM
Tim, There is more than 40 years of basic science research available for many species. The universities environmental programs have complied decades of research which began in the early 1900's if not before. When you look at costs I suggest you also consider the cost of attorney fees and court costs. In 1980 Congress passed and the President signed The Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) which allowed individuals, retirees, veterans and small businesses to recover these fees when prevailing in litigation against the federal government. Not a bad idea at the outset. In 1995 through the Federal Reports Elimination and Sunset Act, Congress stopped requiring this reporting. Probably not a good idea, From 2000 to 2011 3,300 lawsuits were filed by 12 environmental groups who were awarded with $37,000,000,000.000 in attorney fees. The Center for Biological Diversity established in 1998 has systematically and ambitiously used biological data, legal expertise, and the citizen petition provision of the powerful Endangered Species Act to obtain sweeping, legally binding new protections for animals, plants, and their habitat — first in New Mexico, then throughout the Southwest, next through all 11 western states. 93 percent of their lawsuits result in favorable outcomes and cost the taxpayers millions of dollars. They also delight in overwhelming the court system with filings which cause the agencies to miss deadlines, settle and pay court fees and attorney costs. They make a pretty good income and have roughly $17.200,000,000,000 in net assets. Clearly there is something seriously wrong with the system.
Mary Mcallister
Mary Mcallister Subscriber
Dec 30, 2016 04:47 PM
Nor is it productive to ask that more money be allocated to the ESA, Tim. At a time when the EPA (and other federal agencies) is likely to be dismantled or at least gutted, talking about spending more money is far less likely than improving the law that administers the ESA. If we want to save the law, we should be talking about how to improve it, not stonewalling good faith efforts to improve it.

No, environmentalists did not lose the last election, but you can bet that environmental laws that affected energy industries did. Whether it is true or not, the voters who installed a Republican government believe that all forms of government regulation—including environmental regulations—are damaging the economy and the jobs it would otherwise provide. (Not that I object to most of those laws.)

And thanks to Candace for the numbers on the cost to taxpayers of environmental lawsuits. Here is an article about Center for Biological Diversity on this topic:[…]/ Just as the “restoration” industry is now big business, so is the business of filing lawsuits using environmental laws. Many taxpayers/voters do not consider those lawyers (and their non-profit organizations that are NOT paying taxes) heroes.
Jim Bolen
Jim Bolen Subscriber
Dec 30, 2016 09:17 PM
candace recheck your figures. the charity navigator site which rates charities states that the center for biological diversity assets are $17,000,000 not 17 trillion. makes me wonder about your other figures you have given out(37 trillion in lawyer fees?)
Anyway the success rate of 93% you stated seems to indicate that these are valid not frivolous lawsuits.
Research of anything cost a lot of money but as Tim has said how can we make valid decisions if we don't have adequate knowledge. Snow leopards live inhospitable environment and the latest issue of national geographic points out how little we know on Orangutans who live in treetops. Are you saying we already know enough about these animals to make informed decisions? The point you made about the cost of lawsuits has nothing to do with doing basic research but involves the government and individuals and organizations(Left or right) who don't like what the government is doing at any given time. This is not relevant to Tim's comments on research.
Maybe I missed your point as you have mentioned. If your saying that aspects of the law is counterproductive I would like to hear how they could be improved. I support the mission that backs these law and not any aspects that are counterproductive. If collaboration would work better then lawsuits I am all for it . The current stock of politicians won't cross the aisle to work with the other side. Voters are frustrated and organizations turn to lawsuits for solutions and lawyers make a lot of Money which doesn't go into the environment.
Like I said I don't trust the republicans on the environment, In my mind they want to weaken protection and sacrifice the environment for short term profit gains for their backers. I hope that candace can prove me wrong. Time will tell.
Your right that just throwing money at a problem doesn't work but having unfunded mandates doesn't work either and there is limits to what the government can do but also what the environment can withstand.
Tomorrow I will be out in the snow near where lynx has been sited. another specie protected under ESA yea
Kent Lucas
Kent Lucas Subscriber
Jan 03, 2017 12:30 PM
Candace has a problem with facts and figures. She is a partisan Republican who advocates returning public lands to state control, among other dubious policies. Just look her up. She hates the Center for Biological Diversity so that encouraged me to contribute even more than usual. Yes, they are highly effective at holding agencies to the letter of the law. Support the CBD!
Ruby Ram
Ruby Ram
Jan 03, 2017 01:10 PM
I also want to put forth the argument that the ESA also benefits communities of people who want to preserve the status quo and health of their environment. The ESA makes foreign (on a city, state, national, or international scale) entities like mines work harder for the privilege of opening up new operations near said established communities. It aids those who mobilize against new mines which usually leaves behind a big hole, tailing ponds, and loose dust on their lands. Most of those loose particles are metals and silicates, not good for the lungs. Of course there are other permits too but the removal of the ESA will probably affect those. No law/act is perfect, we could always reform them, but why scrap them?
Mary Mcallister
Mary Mcallister Subscriber
Jan 03, 2017 03:16 PM
Here is a new study about the ambiguity of speciation:[…]/161227150223.htm The evolution of new species from their ancestors is a gradual process and it is strictly a matter of opinion when the designation of a new, distinct species is required. This study has identified a “gray-zone” in which genome changes are observed, but interbreeding is still possible and so calling it a new species is not clear-cut. When will the coywolf be designated a species, for example?

This ambiguity of taxonomy is one of many reasons why the ESA is causing many costly lawsuits and why it needs to be updated to reflect the scientific advances (particularly molecular analysis) of the past 40 years.

I am a Democrat. Always have been and probably always will be. Sure, Candace is probably a Republican and if we can’t talk to her we’re just talking to ourselves. That doesn’t get us anywhere. And thanks to Candace for speaking in a forum in which she is probably not in the majority. (However, there do appear to be too many zeros in her figures.)

Although I value the ESA and other environmental laws, I have little respect for the Center for Biological Diversity which has caused havoc in my community of environmentalists.
Candace Oathout
Candace Oathout Subscriber
Jan 03, 2017 05:25 PM
Thank for the kind words, Mary. Must have had a brain cramp when typing zeros. As it happens I don't belong to either party. I can't stand by while science is distorted and misquoted to advance an agenda for profit. The abuse of the grant awards process and attacks on entire communities and industries through poorly interpreted data and political abuse of power compounded lawsuits filed that serve primarily to clog the system often at the expense of both property owners and species keeps me both frustrated and engaged. It is so good to hear from others with similar perspectives.
Kent Lucas
Kent Lucas Subscriber
Jan 03, 2017 07:18 PM
Not a member of either party. OK, maybe this Is this another MN Republican with the same name:

Yes! I support Transferring Public Lands from the federal government to willing western states to improve public access, enhance environmental health, and restore economic productivity through local control.

Considerations of resolutions to the Republican Party on MN platform
For more information, contact Candace Oathout
Nomination process for Delegates/Alternates:

If, as you say "I can't stand by while science is distorted and misquoted to advance an agenda for profit", what are you doing about stopping the Republican party from destroying the Earth with their coordinated campaign against the science of climate change? The CEO of Exxon was just nominated as incoming Secretary of State. And you are worried about the supposed abuse of the ESA?
Candace Oathout
Candace Oathout Subscriber
Jan 03, 2017 08:41 PM
Ken, surprised that you bothered to look. If you continue searching you will learn that I have a very long history as an activist working to keep access to public lands open for recreational interests for all users groups. I worked with the Warrior Society, Americans For Forrest Access, Backcountry Horsemen of America, the Snowmobile Association and the Action Coalition among others. I supported Ron Paul in his presidential campaigns. Is there anything else you want to know?
Mary Mcallister
Mary Mcallister Subscriber
Jan 04, 2017 08:04 AM
Kent, That seems like a witch hunt. If we are to tamp down the polarization that has paralyzed our politics, we must learn how to talk to one another. More importantly, we must learn how to LISTEN to one another. Trump voters are nearly half of the country. We cannot write them off. We must understand their concerns and be responsive to them.

Although I don’t support the notion of selling our federal public lands or ceding them to states where their care will devolve to the lowest common denominator, I DO understand Candace’s concerns because we have many local examples of what Candace is concerned about. Here is the most recent example of the high-handed way our local National Parks are being administered:[…]ark-services-unfair-process These actions drive the general public into an anti-government stance.
Jan 07, 2017 12:00 PM
I grit my teeth whenever I see someone (usually journalists who seem to take this as a matter of fact) claiming the spotted owl shut down the pacific northwest timber industry. Please read Paul Hirt's (a historian) "History of the US Forest Service after WWII". The old growth was almost gone by the time the spotted owl issue came on the scene. As Dr. Hirt put it: an inevitable force (old growth logging) met an immovable object (the limited amount of remaining old growth forest, a non-renewable resource in human lifespan terms).

If you want to see where the U.S. logging industry has gone, drive through the thousand miles of loblolly pine plantations that stretch from Texas to Virginia. This area produces wood more quickly and cheaply than the NW. There is still a lot of logging in the NW but automation has replaced most of the workers. One person with a modern feller/buncher and loader replaces a dozen loggers not to mention mill automation. The U.S. produces more plywood and 2X4's than needed and industry ups and downs follow the housing market and the success of efforts to reduce Canada's exports. It has nothing to do with the ESA. That talk is just from folks who don't like anyone telling them anything about what they can do. A non-working proposition in a country crowded with over 300 million people.

The old growth was gone. The spotted owl saved some scraps; though not enough to preserve itself. Once the original forest was reduced to isolated bits it became the type of fragmented forest that barred owls thrive in. The once millions of acres of old growth that is necessary to foster the creation and persistence of the spotted owl as a separate, tall-dark-dense forest-loving species were gone by the late 1980's.