Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), introduced a discussion draft of a proposal to amend the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  The draft legislation would reauthorize the ESA for the first time since 1992, and increase the role of state and local governments in species protection and restoration.  

Chairman Barrasso’s proposal was endorsed by the Western Governors’ Association (WGA) and is backed by the Wyoming County Commissioners Association, the American Forest Resource Council, American Loggers Council, Federal Forest Resource Coalition, Public Lands Council, and Land Conservation Assistance Network.

The bill emphasizes that federal enforcement of ESA should be exercised in conjunction with state authorities.  Sec. 103 of the discussion draft requires the Secretary of the Interior to notify the Governor and state agency of each state impacted by ESA within 15 days upon receipt of a petition to list a species under the ESA.  The language would require the Secretary to seek input from the Governor or state agency within a period of 75 days from the point of notification and states “the Secretary shall take into consideration, and give great weight to, any state or Tribal comments submitted.”  

The draft legislation would authorize states:

  • To lead recovery planning and implementation;
  • To expedite threatened species or endangered species recovery by supporting State-level initiatives and partnerships; and,
  • To increase flexibility and feasibility for the applicability of recovery plans.

The bill includes comprehensive reforms to the ESA that expand the roles of Governors and state agencies in the protection and restoration of endangered species.  Sec. 105 of the draft bill would require the Secretary “to consult with the states to the maximum extent possible, and to acknowledge and respect the primary authority of state agencies to manage fish and wildlife within their borders.” Republicans argue an expanded role for state authorities would improve rural economies and bring transparency to environmental policy.

Chairman Barrasso plans to hold a hearing on his proposal in the coming weeks.  The bill is opposed by conservation activists who argue state and local governments lack funding and bandwidth to take on a new role in endangered species protection and recovery. It is unclear how much traction this proposal will get in the Senate with a Supreme Court fight looming.  It is possible Chairman Barrasso’s bill is shelfed until the midterm elections in November.