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Above All, Try <i>Something</i>: Two Small Steps Forward for Endangered Species

August 2010

Citation: ELR 10812

Author: Richard P. Johnson

In a recent essay, Katrina Wyman suggests four substantial reforms aimed at improving implementation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and furthering species recovery: (1) decoupling listing decisions from permanent species protection;3 (2) requiring the Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) to implement cost-effective species protection measures;5 (3) prioritizing funding for biological hotspots;6 and (4) establishing additional protected areas. Although Wyman does not specifically frame it this way, these four proposals amount to a grand legislative bargain: ESA critics would get a regulatory mechanism that specifically requires the FWS to take costs into account, while environmentalists would get more funding for species recovery and more land, both federal and nonfederal, on which development is restricted or prohibited.

These are bold proposals. Wyman correctly perceives that the most likely way forward from the current sterile debates over the ESA will involve some form of painful legislative compromise. However, her proposals reach so far that they stand little chance of immediate enactment. Two more modest types of compromise focused on federal lands may offer greater prospects for near-term progress.

Rich Johnson has been an environmental and natural resource attorney with the U.S. Government Accountability Office for over 15 years. He has worked on numerous GAO reports addressing the implementation of the Endangered Species Act and federal land management laws. The views expressed herein are entirely those of the author and do not reflect the views of the GAO.

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