By Anne Laker
Since 1969, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) has acted as a our national safety net for fish, plants and wildlife on the brink of extinction. It’s arguably the most effective environmental law in U.S. history. The full recovery of the bald eagle is perhaps the ESA’s greatest success story.
But now, in the U.S. House, a barrage of nine bills have been introduced to weaken the law, and one bill draft has been released in the Senate. Furthermore, Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke has also just released a series of regulatory rollbacks to the ESA. Such proposed changes would effectively neuter the Act, undermining science, and making it difficult to protect essential habitat for imperiled species — such as our very own Indiana bat and other Indiana-dwelling mammals, birds and mollusks listed here.
One proposed change is that the responsibility — or abdication of the responsibility — for identifying and protecting high-risk species be put in the hands of the states. The Univ. of California did a study called “Conservation Limited: Assessing the Limitations of State Laws and Resources for Endangered Species Protection.” Here are the key takeaways:
1. Few state ESA laws protect all endangered species within their state.
Only 18 states (36%) provide protection to all animal and plant species. 32 states (64%) cover fewer species than are covered by the federal ESA. Seventeen states (34%) fail to protect plant species. Two states (4%), West Virginia and Wyoming, have no state legislation protecting species.
Of the 17 states (34%) that fail to protect plant species, all have federally listed endangered or threatened plant species believed to or known to occur within the state.
2. Few state ESA laws require consultation with expert state agencies. 38 states (76%) do not require intra-state agency consultation with the state’s expert wildlife agencies for state-level projects.
3. Most state ESA laws allow less citizen involvement than the federal ESA. 30 states (60%) do not allow citizens to petition to initiate the process for the listing and delisting of a species. Only 14 states (28%) allow citizens to petition to initiate the process to list or delist a species.
4. Few state ESA laws protect against harm to important habitat or harm to species located on private lands. Only 5 states (10%) consider the modification of habitat for a threatened or endangered species to be a form of prohibited take. Only 16 states (32%) impose restrictions on private land use for the protection of species. Yet, nearly 80% of endangered species have relied on private land for all or some of their habitat.
5. Virtually no states require plans to recover species for eventual delisting. Only 2 states (4%) provide agencies with full recovery planning authority to help recover both endangered animals and plants.
Take the Indiana bat, for example. In 2016, the Division of Forestry admitted that its timber sales in Indiana state forests might inadvertently kill the endangered Indiana Bat, so they requested an Incidental Take Permit. The Endangered Species Act allows this incidental take in exchange for conservation measures, based on an approved Environmental Impact Statement and Habitat Conservation Plan. This provides an opportunity to minimize and mitigate incidental take by monitoring to determine more precisely where Indiana Bat colonies are roosting and foraging so that timber harvest in those areas can be avoided.
Without the ESA, the Division of Forestry could log without regard for the well-being of the bat.