Policy & Politics

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Endangered Species Act Reform (national policy)

Published May. 15, 2013

AFBF Policy Development

May 2013


The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was enacted in 1973. Over its 40 year history, it has been one of the most sweeping and, at least to some, one of the most important environmental statutes. Its “beneficiaries” – the polar bear, the bald eagle and other iconic species – are uniquely visible and easily evoke sympathy from the public. But these species are not the only ones that come under the Act. There is a much broader range of smaller mammals, insects and plants that are equally protected by the law.

The challenge for farmers and ranchers is that administration and enforcement of the law has changed over the decades as activists have increasingly resorted to the courts as a means of driving policy decisions. In one of the most recent decisions, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) won a settlement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to force the agency, over the next several years, to make listing decisions on literally hundreds of species.

As lawsuits against the agency have proliferated, FWS has spent more time and money embroiled in litigation and less time on actual programmatic activities. That has meant fewer resources for the agency to devote to vital activities like technical assistance to landowners and crafting voluntary, science-based approaches to preserving species.


Should the Endangered Species Act be reformed to reflect a more flexible, less restrictive process that places greater emphasis on technical assistance for the regulated community, particularly landowners?

Should science-based, quantifiable performance measures be built into species recovery plans?

Should FWS resources be targeted more toward cooperative conservation or mitigation agreements with landowners?

Should financial or other economic incentives or assistance for species conservation be co-administered between USDA and FWS?

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