Central Washingtonians have felt very real impacts from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for decades. The ESA has caused our power bills to go up, increased the risks of devastating wildfires, restricted recreational access to public lands, and jeopardized the ability of farmers and ranchers to make a living.
As the 40th anniversary of the ESA approaches, I have called together 12 Members of the House of Representatives, representing districts all across the nation, to form the Endangered Species Act Working Group. Jointly led by the Western Caucus Co-Chair Cynthia Lummis (WY-at-large), this Working Group, through a series of events and forums, is examining the ESA from many angles to determine the law's effectiveness and ways that it can be updated.
On October 10th, the Working Group held a forum entitled "Reviewing 40 Years of the Endangered Species Act and Seeking Improvement for People and Species." The forum featured 17 panelists, representing diverse groups and interests.
While people in the Western United States have long felt the effects of ESA, negative impacts from this law are spreading to the rest of the country. Participants specifically highlighted the need to empower states, local governments, and private landowners to conserve species, the need for balance within the law, the importance of transparent data and science, and the need to prevent the ESA from being used as a tool for lawsuits and closed-door settlements with litigious groups.
As an example, wolves in Washington state, ESA-listed on one side of a highway but not the other, are threatening ranchers' livelihoods and landowners' private property. Wolves cannot read roadmaps and the Obama Administration should promptly de-list them nationwide.
Hundreds of thousands of acres of forests in the Pacific Northwest are off limits, due to the listing of the Northern Spotted Owl. This listing has contributed to a more than 80 percent reduction in timber harvests, shut down logging operations and mills, and is causing an increase in catastrophic wildfires that have destroyed the very "habitat' these policies are supposed to protect.
Recently, over 400 acres of private, irrigated Franklin County farmland has been proposed as critical habitat -- severely impacting the economic value and future uses of this land -- for a sub-species of plant known as the "bladderpod" that a recent DNA study shows is indistinguishable from plants in other areas.
Despite a record run of salmon, and despite citizens already devoting 30 percent of their utility bills to salmon recovery, certain groups continue seeking through litigation to tear out Northwest dams and eliminate vital tools to protect farm crops from pests and disease with little scientific basis.
And, just last month, the Obama Administration proposed to designate over 2,000 square miles in north Central Washington as "habitat" for the Canada lynx, though they can't identify even how many lynx there are.
Clearly the law needs to be reformed. After more than two decades since it was last authorized, the Endangered Species Act should be modernized and updated to once again focus the law on true species recovery. Together, all interests must come to the table and have an honest and fair discussion on how the ESA might be improved both for species and people.
One of the fundamental goals of the Endangered Species Act Working Group is to hear from everyone -- all sides and all opinions -- about aspects of the ESA and how it can be updated and improved. I encourage you to submit your experiences, concerns, ideas, and other information in writing to our ESA Working Group website: http://esaworkinggroup.hastings.house.gov