Legislation Introduced to Modernize & Strengthen the Endangered Species Act


U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), introduced the Endangered Species Act Amendments of 2020. The legislation reauthorizes the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for the first time since 1992, elevates the role of states and increases transparency in the implementation of the ESA. It also prioritizes resources to help meet conservation goals, while providing regulatory certainty to promote recovery activities.

On Sept. 23, 2020, the EPW Committee will hold a legislative hearing on Barrasso’s bill. Barrasso has invited Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon to testify.

“It is past time to modernize the Endangered Species Act. The status-quo is not acceptable,” said Barrasso. “Species that go on the endangered species list seem to stay there forever and never recover to the point of coming off the list. My bill promotes the recovery of species and will allow local economies to thrive. State and local experts need to be leading efforts to protect local wildlife.”

“This legislation will increase local input and improve transparency in the listing process. It protects endangered species and helps communities invest in more conservation and recovery activities. I look forward to holding a hearing next week on the legislation and listening to Governor Gordon’s thoughts on this important issue for Wyoming.”

Barrasso’s legislation was inspired by the bipartisan Western Governors’ Association’s (WGA) Species Conservation and Endangered Species Act Initiative in drafting the legislation.

Specifically, the legislation will:


  • Reauthorize and modernize the Endangered Species Act;


  • Elevate the role of state wildlife agencies in species management;


  • Increase transparency associated with carrying out conservation under the ESA;


  • Prioritize available resources for species recovery;


  • Provide regulatory certainty for landowners and other stakeholders to facilitate participation in conservation and recovery activities;


  • Ensure development of recovery plans and implementation plans, and provide impacted states with the opportunity to lead their development;


  • Ensure establishment of recovery teams and implementation teams upon the request of impacted states, and provide impacted states with the opportunity to lead them;


  • Require the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a status review of a threatened or endangered species for purposes of delisting, downlisting, or uplisting, as applicable, based on a determination that applicable recovery goals are achieved for the species, or on a recommendation by the recovery team that the species should be delisted, downlisted, or uplisted, as applicable;


  • Delay judicial review of a rule to delist a threatened or endangered species during the post-delisting monitoring period required under the ESA;


  • Require negotiation with states prior to releasing an experimental population of a species;


  • Require the Secretary of the Interior to consider a conservation agreement entered into or endorsed by the Secretary of the Interior under any of the factors under the ESA for purposes of determining whether to include or maintain a species on the list of threatened or endangered species;


  • Require the Secretary of the Interior to establish a framework for the consideration of conservation efforts by states, tribes, local governments, private landowners, lessees, and third-party organizations as regulatory mechanisms under the ESA;


  • Codify a prioritization system for addressing listing petitions, status reviews, and proposed and final determinations, based on the urgency of a species’ circumstances, conservation efforts, and available data and information so that resources can be utilized in the most effective manner, and so that stakeholders know in advance of potential future listings and are further incentivized to enter into voluntary conservation activities to mitigate against them; and


  • Include studies on how to improve conservation efforts and to understand in greater depth the extent of resources being expended across the federal government associated with implementation of the ESA.


Read the legislation here.


Background Information:


On Feb. 15, 2017, the EPW Committee held an oversight hearing titled “Modernization of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).” The hearing focused on the need to modernize the ESA in order to improve recovery rates and examined ways to lead to the eventual delisting of recovered species. Former Democrat Wyoming Governor David Freudenthal testified in favor of the need to modernize the ESA.

On April 26, 2017, congressional staff received a briefing from a bipartisan group of state officials titled “State Perspectives: Modernization of the Endangered Species Act.” The briefing highlighted the bipartisan efforts currently underway by the Western Governors’ Association and the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies to identify opportunities to modernize the ESA.

On May 10, 2017, the EPW Committee held an oversight hearing titled “Conservation, Consultation, and Capacity: State Views on the Need to Modernize the Endangered Species Act.” The purpose of this hearing was to hear from state officials on their roles and capacities in species conservation. The hearing examined state’s views on the need to strengthen and modernize the ESA, including its effectiveness in incentivizing conservation, facilitating federal-state consultation, and ensuring adequate capacity. The hearing assessed ways to best help the ESA meet its conservation potential.

On July 2, 2018, Barrasso released discussion draft legislation to modernize the ESA

On July 17, 2018, the EPW Committee held a hearing on Barrasso’s discussion draft legislation, the Endangered Species Act Amendments of 2018. The purpose of that hearing was to hear the views of state officials on the discussion draft bill. Former Republican Wyoming Governor Matt Mead testified in support of Barrasso’s legislation.

On Oct. 10, 2018, the EPW Committee held a hearing on the relationship between the ESA and state management of wildlife, entitled “From Yellowstone’s Grizzly Bear to the Chesapeake’s Delmarva Fox Squirrel — Successful State Conservation, Recovery, and Management of Wildlife.” The hearing examined successful state work to conserve, recover, and manage wildlife, in partnership with federal agencies, landowners and stakeholders.

On Sept. 9, 2020, the EPW Committee held a legislative hearing entitled “Successful State Stewardship: A Legislative Hearing to Examine S. 614, the Grizzly Bear State Management Act.” The purpose of this legislative hearing was to examine S.614, the Grizzly Bear State Management Act of 2019, including a review of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bear’s successful recovery in the United States and its recent relisting as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.


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