U.S. House Committee Holds Hearing to Consider Changes to Endangered Species Act

The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee held an oversight hearing to begin the process of rewriting the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The primary concern of some members of the committee is excessive lawsuits brought by environmental groups to enforce deadlines and force decisions on endangered species classifications. Other committee members argued that lawsuits are an important tool for identifying species that need protection. The hearing focused on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has received requests to add more than 1,000 species to the endangered list since 2007. 

When environmental groups are successful in suits against the government, they can recover a portion of their legal fees from a taxpayer-supported "judgment fund." In addition, some environmental groups who sue federal agencies have also received federal grant money. An effort is underway to remove the "judgment fund" provision from the current law.

The Natural Resources Committee’s action is likely the first in a series of hearings to begin crafting ESA reform legislation. The most recent Congressional efforts to revise the ESA died in 2006. Enacted into law in 1973, there has been widespread agreement that the ESA needs to be updated. The law has favored a blanket approach of setting aside millions of acres rather than nurturing smaller recovery zones. During this time, the off-road community has been unnecessarily deprived of access to roads and trails while the sacrifice does not necessarily translate into better species protection. ESA reforms would seek to foster more cooperative efforts between the government, private landowners and conservation organizations so that federal dollars are spent on recovery rather than lawsuits. 

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