We recently sponsored a poll concerning the Endangered Species Act, and it opened our eyes. As it turns out, farmers and ranchers aren’t alone in thinking there’s something not quite right with the Endangered Species Act. More than 60 percent of Americans told pollsters they, too, think it needs an overhaul. And they’re right. With a recovery rate of less than 2 percent, the ESA has failed to achieve its primary goal of recovering at-risk species.
There are many things we can do to make environmental policy better, but local control is near the top of the list. Americans trust local and state government to protect the environment far more than they trust Washington to get the job done.
Right now, farmers and ranchers across the country are working with local groups and officials to prove it is possible to protect species and respect property owners at the same time. And here again, most people agree with us. In the poll, conducted for AFBF by Morning Consult, only 31 percent of those surveyed actually think the federal government should be taking the lead in recovery efforts. Why? Because state and local wildlife management programs are getting results that the feds haven’t. Most recently, the greater sage grouse and the Sonoran desert tortoise were spared from ESA listings thanks to the efforts of farmers and ranchers, landowners, and state wildlife agencies across the West. They saved these at-risk animals, and they did it without sacrificing their local businesses and economies. So instead of stepping in where others are getting the job done, 69 percent of Americans think the federal government should offer resources to third parties to boost these efforts.
It’s time for the federal government to give credit where it’s due and reward the hard work private businesses and landowners are putting into conservation efforts.
These state plans work because they are created by officials and business owners who know the local landscape far better than any federal agency does. And while federal plans and listings burden landowners with costly permits and red tape, state-led plans actually create incentives for landowners to enhance habitats on their land.
The outdated ESA stands in the way of greater success. Fixing it means focusing on what actually works instead of piling on more permitting requirements that hurt business but do nothing to protect wildlife. Today, landowners face wrong-headed restrictions that actually discourage creating habitat for endangered species lest the simple presence of protected wildlife means they can no longer use part or all of their own land. Neither farmers, ranchers, businesses nor anyone else should face extinction themselves for stepping up to protect local wildlife.
Real recovery is possible, but not without a common-sense, science-based approach to preserving wildlife and protecting private property rights. The ESA should be modernized, and Congress must take the lead.