ESA change would simplify process
Washington, D.C. – An Aug. 15 proposal from the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) aims to amend Endangered Species Act (ESA) Section 7 consultation regulations.
The proposal is intended to streamline procedures for gaining FWS approval of authorizations issued by other federal agencies that can impact endangered species.
“These changes aren’t major, but they’re helpful,” says Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) Executive Vice President Jim Magagna. “Up until now, anytime a federal agency has undertaken a federal action, like the Bureau of Land Management doing grazing permits, if there has been a potential impact to an endangered species they had to do a Section 7 consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service. The change allows, under a broad set of circumstances, that other agencies can do their own ESA review without a formal consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service.”
He says the change simplifies the process and removes the need to always get FWS directly involved.
“Ideally it would very much simplify things with conditions that allow federal agencies to use documents they already have for other purposes, rather than doing a completely new biological assessment in every case,” notes Magagna, adding that the change would also help with time delays. “The Fish and Wildlife Service is currently given a 60-day deadline to render a decision that they concur with the determination of another federal agency.”
“The existing regulations create unnecessary conflicts and delays,” said U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne when he announced the proposed rule in August. He said the proposal aims to bring the Endangered Species Act “into the 21st century.”
“This change should make time and paperwork savings, but that’s making the big assumption that if these rules go through some of the environmental groups won’t challenge an agency every time they try to utilize this,” says Magagna.
A second part of the changes to ESA concerns the control of greenhouse gases. “That is the administration’s response to the petition that led to the listing of the polar bear, which was based on greenhouse gases,” says Magagna. “The environmental groups have already filed several more petitions for listing based on global warming concepts.”
Some environmental groups have labeled the changes the “Bush Extinction Plan.”
“We welcome the additional time to oppose the Bush Extinction Plan and demonstrate the vast public support for the Endangered Species Act,” said Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition, in a press release after the comment period was extended.
“The American public will not stand for such an underhanded attempt by this lame duck administration to weaken protections for our nation’s wildlife and wild lands,” she said.
Comments on the rules were accepted until Oct. 15 after a 30-day extension from the original deadline of Sept. 15. A mid-October Associated Press article reports the FWS received over 200,000 comments. Because there is an effort to finalize the new rule by the end of the Bush Administration, the agency was attempting to review all comments in 32 hours with 15 additional staff members.
According to AP, these rules changes would be the biggest overhaul of endangered species regulations since 1986. The FWS summary of the proposal states that much has happened since that time and the Services have gained considerable experience in implementing the Act, as have other federal agencies, states and property owners.
Magagna says currently there aren’t many activities in Wyoming that have required the Section 7 review, but that the changes do have some potential future benefit.
The Public Lands Council, along with the American Sheep Industry Association, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Texas Cattle Feeders, Idaho Cattle and WSGA submitted comments to the FWS regarding proposed changes to the ESA Section 7 consultation process. They stated this proposed rule was a meaningful first step and urged the services to issue a final rule as soon as practical.
Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.