In Defense of the Endangered Species Act

By Anne Laker, IFA Staff

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.

Call or write Senators Todd Young and Joe Donnelly. Ask them to oppose any proposals that weaken the Endangered Species Act. Do it for Indiana’s native animals.

 

“The Gradual Destruction of Indiana’s Longest Footpath”: A Knobstone Trail Hiker Speaks Out

When the Indiana Division of Forestry announces a plan to log a state forest, we the people get 30 days to comment. New plans to log Jackson-Washington State Forest include re-routing the Knobstone Trail — raising the ire of hikers! Why would our own state government disregard the value of our greatest eco-tourist asset, enjoyed by so many? It’s imperative that we comment to the Division of Forestry, as hiker Laura Pence has, below. Will you speak out in your own voice? Here’s how. The deadline is midnight, Monday, August 6.

“I’m a Knobstone Trail thru-hiker with a great passion for Hoosier forests, and I have some concerns/questions about the plan to harvest timber in the Jackson-Washington State Forest.

In April, I backpacked the entire Knobstone (a.k.a. the “KT”) with friends and we’re planning to go back again in the fall.

Laura and her friend Nicholas on the KT, spring 2018.

This spring there were already multiple areas that appeared devastated by logging and a large swath of damage from a tornado in 2012. Tangles of briers and weeds, not new trees, filled in the areas I hiked through. All of these areas will take many decades to recover. What does the DNR do to restore the ecosystem and encourage the proper types of plants to grow in these damaged areas?

Tornado damage is a natural disturbance; the artificial disturbance of logging is not needed. Photo by Todd Stewart.

It saddens me to think of the forest in the Jackson-Washington State Forest leg of the KT being logged before much healing has had a chance to happen in the woods along the trail. Not only does the harvest leave ugly scars on the landscape, it is very difficult to navigate in areas without trees.  We nearly got lost in the spring because there was nothing to paint a blaze on for half a mile in one of the heavily logged areas.

Is it really even economically necessary to harvest timber in the Jackson-Washington Forest right now? How is the value of that wood determined? My understanding from the Indiana Forest Alliance is that the state is selling timber even when market prices are low, and the prices fetched — no matter what the quality of the wood — are lower than the lowest quality private timber prices 95% of the time.

I understand the value of timber as a natural resource for the state, but I also worry about the impact on our environment, erosion in such a hilly area, and the gradual destruction of Indiana’s longest footpath, the Knobstone Trail.

I love this area and want to protect it for my son, a budding trail runner and backpacker.

Laura’s son Gavin’s very first backpacking trip in the Deam Wilderness, 2013. Photo by Laura Pence.

We only just lost access to one our favorite trail in Yellowwood State Forest due to timber harvest. It seems so much is being taken. Will our children have the same opportunity to escape to wooded wilderness areas that we do?

I hope the DNR is fulfilling the role as long-time conservators and guardians of our beautiful state.”

–Laura Pence (no relation to Mike), Bloomington