As a doctor, if I treat 100 patients and just three recover enough to be discharged from the hospital, I would deserve to lose my medical license.
A similar standard should apply to the Endangered Species Act. This law was meant to protect animals, plants, and other species identified as endangered or threatened with extinction. It also tried to conserve ecosystems upon which these species depend.
A major goal of the Endangered Species Act is the recovery of species to the point that protection under the law is no longer necessary. Since the law’s enactment in 1973, there have been 1,652 species in the United States listed as either endangered or threatened with extinction. Just 47 have come off the list due to recovery.
That’s a recovery rate of less than 3 percent. That’s unacceptable. We can – and must – do better to fulfill the mission of the Endangered Species Act.
That is what the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee heard earlier this month. As the committee’s chairman, I called a hearing to demonstrate the need to modernize the Endangered Species Act. We established bipartisan agreement on the need to examine the law, which has not had a significant update in nearly 30 years.
Former Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal, a Democrat, testified that the Endangered Species Act “just has too much sand in the gears to get where it needs to go.” He recommended amending the law “in a way that protects the original goals but makes it so that it functions.”
He highlighted the good work Governor Matt Mead did as leader of the Western Governors Association’s bipartisan Species Conservation and Endangered Species Act initiative to develop solutions to address the current issues with the act.
Those of us from Wyoming know the important role the Endangered Species Act plays in responsible environmental stewardship. Wyoming is the most beautiful state in the union. Our wildlife is diverse and abundant. Within our state’s borders are thriving populations of grizzly bears, wolves, elk, bison and many plant species. Tourists from all over the world travel to Wyoming to see the abundant natural beauty our state boasts.
Wyoming is also home to a number of endangered species. The grizzly bear has been on the list for more than 30 years. Wyoming’s Game and Fish Department has spent more than $43 million on grizzly bear management. As Governor Freudenthal pointed out, each time we neared delisting, the goal posts for recovery were moved.
We in Wyoming are not alone. More than 99 percent of the counties in the nation are home to at least one species listed as endangered, according to a recent analysis of Fish and Wildlife Service data by the National Association of Counties.
At our committee’s hearing, a state wildlife manager from North Carolina and a farm bureau president from Wisconsin agreed that we should pursue bipartisan modernization of the Endangered Species Act. Even the chief executive officer of Defenders of Wildlife agreed that the act could be improved.
A 3 percent success rate in taking species off the endangered list is not good enough. We need to help more species recover while avoiding unnecessary economic harm to the people with whom they share the land. I believe that together, Republican and Democrat, West and East, we can make the Endangered Species Act work better.