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Endangered Species Act Threatened by New Proposal to ‘Streamline’ Petitioning Process

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced a proposal intended to streamline the petition process for listing new species as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). These “improvements” are in fact a subtle step toward rendering this important law a muddle of bureaucratic obstructions. Buried within 11 pages of vague  text are a few recurring themes that would make petitioning the government far more burdensome.

Petitioners would have to file in every state that a proposed species inhabits or migrates through

Despite leaning on the rhetorical appeal of ‘States’ rights’ and ‘efficient bureaucracy’ the proposed revisions will ultimately weaken the ability of citizens to petition for the addition of new species to the federal list of endangered species. The new proposal states that petitions have to be filed in every single state that species is known to inhabit, even on a migratory basis. Under these proposed rules, the petitioner would have to research and certify that new species recommended for the protections of the Fish and Wildlife Service meet the specific regulatory requirements of that state even down to the level of regional municipal agencies therein that can claim to be affected by the proposal.

Barriers to new petitions

In addition to this burdensome task, in each state the new species would remain subject to the standard 30 days of public comment and debate in which the petitioner would need to defend the claim. Many states are proving to be adverse to any perceived intrusion by federal agencies, particularly environmental regulators. Establishing new hoops to jump through adds to the difficulties inflicted on the citizenry.

The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) provides us with an example of the Kafkaesque nightmare that could await petitioners should these revisions come into effect. In 2014 the CBD and partners petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Monarch Butterfly.

“The Fish and Wildlife subsequently found that the petition presented substantial information indicating monarchs may need protections.  Had these rules been in place at the time, petitioners would have had to submit the petition to 49 states, waited for their response and then appended all of these responses to the petition.  Additionally, based on a survey of state websites, we would have had to search through over 2,191 state websites that hold 54,406 pages of “relevant” monarch data. We also would have had to certify that we had all relevant information from these websites.”

In the case of marine wildlife , that often migrates great distances and crosses the boundaries, this nightmare scenario would likely make it difficult if not impossible to list a species.

The rationale behind this proposal is absurd. “Efficiency, and the wise and judicious expenditure of agency resources” are hardly going to be improved under this revision, unless by the aforementioned terms they are referring to the money and time saved by outright rejecting any proposal raised by an individual citizen or small groups.

Prohibitive cost

The resources required to interact with this federal agency will be prohibitive to many petitioners, and set a dangerous precedent to other federal agencies.

Turtle Island Restoration Network signed on to a joint letter with CBD and many other groups highlighting the depth and seriousness of the concerns with the proposed rule.