Legislators have passed four new amendments to the now 41-year-old Endangered Species Act (ESA) that requires the government agencies involved with the conservation and protection of these creatures to become more transparent to the public about their decisions. The new changes were introduced because researchers are questioning the effectiveness of some organizations in attempting to protect these species from becoming extinct.
One amendment, still being discussed, will require surveyors to count all of the animals in both private and public lands. This will allow the federal government to get a full count of all endangered or threatened species. This bill may even allow for researchers to discover that some species are no longer endangered. These new lists will help conservancy groups do a better job of evaluating which animals need more attention, and where, geographically, animals need the most attention and care.
This bill was introduced by Chris Stewart, a Republican Representative from Utah. He believes that just like humans, animals want and need to live in areas with water. Many endangered and threatened species inhabit state lands, such as public parks. The prairie dog is one such animal that is often found in parks. These animals are not included in counts that determine whether species are endangered, threatened, or even striving. Stewart believes that this amendment will make the endangered species list smaller. It will also allow scientists, and conservationists to understand more about where these “endangered” species are thriving. This could help them find new ways to protect species that are in danger of extinction.
The four bills signed focused on the disclosure of government information to the public. These laws also limit the ability of the public to sue governmental agencies to protect certain animals. The Secretary of the Environmental Protection Agency, presently Gina McCarthy, as well as other environmental state and governmental agencies will be required to release yearly reports that explain all court litigation in detail. Bill 4318 will be used to limit the rate charged by a lawyer for citizen suits against the ESA to $125 an hour. This is done to reflect changes made by the Equal Access to Justice Act.
The discussion of these bills caused tension between politicians. House Republicans are being accused of attempting to cover up their weakening of the ESA while touting that their bills are making important improvements to the act. People in opposition to the new bills believe the acts will give more power to individual states. Wyoming and Montana have been pushing to de-list Northern Yellowstone grizzly bears as being an endangered species, so that they can once again legalize hunting of the animal. They fear that more states will deregulate and may not correctly survey their land.
Even many Republicans agree that these new regulations stress the listing of new species to the list, rather than protecting and conserving species already included on the list. Conservation is not the only goal for many conservancy agencies. One important function of these bills is the requirement of data to be posted on a publicly accessible database. This will help inform the public of the animals that are endangered.
This release of public information may also open conversation about conservancy among a wider audience, and increase public knowledge about the species near them. Individuals will have more access to finding ways they can personally help in the protection of species at risk of extinction in their areas. No one can be sure how these newly enforced regulations will affect the Act. In due time all questions will be answered; if not by the federal government, than by the many Americans that will have access to their databases. Though the transparency of the Endangered Species Act is important, many government officials believe that those working in conservancy need to be held more accountable for the actual act of protecting the species they are listing.
Opinion by Joshua Shane