Farmers and ranchers believe reforms are needed in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to balance needs of species with economic impacts on agriculture.
They believe endangered and threatened species protection can be more effectively achieved by providing incentives to private landowners and public-land users rather than by imposing land-use restrictions and penalties.
When Congress enacted the law in 1973, it envisioned a law which would protect species believed to be on the brink of extinction. The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) were charged with administration.
Since that time, the ESA has morphed into one of the most far-reaching environmental statutes ever passed. Today, the interests of activist, special-interest groups trump those of species legitimately at risk, and the environment.
Through its prohibitions against taking of species, ESA can restrict a wide range of human activity in areas where species exist or may possibly exist in the future. It also allows special interest groups to sue anyone who they allege to be in violation of the Act.
The ESA has become a litigation-driven tool that rewards those who use the courtroom at the expense of those who practice positive conservation efforts. Environmentalists’ sue-and-settle tactics require the government to make listing decisions on hundreds of new species. They have been rewarded for their efforts by taxpayer-funded reimbursements for their legal bills.
The ESA’s impacts fall more heavily – and unfairly – on farmers and ranchers.
One reason for this is that farmers and ranchers own most of the land where plant and animal species live. The land is open, unpaved and relatively undeveloped, so it becomes habitat for endangered or threatened plants and animals.
Unlike other industries, farm and ranch land remains the principal asset used in the business so ESA restrictions make productive land use especially difficult.
Farm and ranch families also live on the land they work. Restrictions imposed by the ESA adversely impact farm and ranch quality of life.
Farmers and ranchers would rather respond to a modernized ESA which focuses on recovery through incentives-based conservation that protects species and habitat on their privately owned lands – with state wildlife agencies and local governments oversight rather than the federal government.
Farmers and ranchers must remain free to manage their own land while participating in recovery decisions. Instead of being forced to feed and shelter listed species on their own, farmers and ranchers should receive technical and financial help.
The Endangered Species Act could provide a carrot instead of the stick it currently wields.
The American public understands and appreciates species’ conservation. There are many examples of effective voluntary conservation programs and practices that exist with state and local oversight.
It’s time for the pendulum to swing back in the other direction with less over reach by the ESA. Improving current processes and procedures would help serve the people most affected by implementation of the law.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion