WASHINGTON, May 27, 2015 An Obama administration plan that would give the states a bigger voice in decisions about what animals end up getting protection under the Endangered Species Act has riled up some environmental groups and failed to impress Republican congressional critics who have vowed to reform what one historian calls the “Magna Carta of the environmental movement.”

The proposed rule was placed in the Federal Register earlier this month by the National Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service. It would require those who want to petition the federal government to protect and list a species to first ask state agencies that manage that species to provide them with the latest scientific data on the animal and its habitat. States would have 30 days to provide the data. Currently, the states provide that information later in the process, usually during the year-long review that comes after a finding that a listing might be warranted. The proposed rule would also disallow petitions for more than one species.

“The proposed policies would result in a more nimble, transparent and ultimately more effective Endangered Species Act,” said FWS Director Dan Ashe. “By improving and streamlining our processes, we are ensuring the limited resources of state and federal agencies are best spent actually protecting and restoring imperiled species.”

Nonsense, said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

“These regulations are a lousy solution to a problem that doesn't exist. The Endangered Species Act already has a lengthy comment process that gives states ample opportunity for input. All these regulations would do is cut the public out of endangered species management and burden an already overburdened process for species to get the protection they need to avoid extinction,” Greenwald said.

Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of Defenders of Wildlife and a former FWS director under President Bill Clinton, agreed. “The reasons these species are in trouble is because something failed at the local and state level,” she told High Country News, adding that the Obama administration has been too deferential to states.

Some environmentalists suggest that the proposed rule is an attempt by the Obama administration to pacify Republican critics of the ESA who see the law, enacted by President Richard Nixon in 1973, as a hindrance to development and a job killer. But the critics are vowing to continue their efforts to reform the ESA and described the administration proposal as an acknowledgement that the ESA isn’t working right.

“The Obama Administration admitted today that the process by which Endangered Species Act listing determinations are made is insufficient, and then asked the American people to trust them to fix the problem. I don’t buy it,” House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah,” said in a statement.

“It is my hope that the Administration’s admission of these failures isn’t just a press release designed to assuage these concerns, and instead serves as a starting point for a true reform of a law that is badly needed,” Bishop said.

Senate Environment and Public Work Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., also hasn’t been swayed by the proposal.

“The chairman applauds the FWS acknowledgement that changes need to be made in ESA and he is reviewing the changes proposed by FWS and will take into consideration as he works to reform a law that has only recovered 2 percent of the species listed,” a committee spokeswoman said.

FWS and the National Marine Fisheries Services, which administers the ESA for marine animals, said more ESA-related proposals will be forthcoming over the next year aimed at broad goals including improving transparency, incentivizing voluntary conservation efforts, and further engaging the states.

“The protection and restoration of America’s proud natural heritage would not be possible without the Endangered Species Act and the close collaboration among states, landowners and federal agencies that the Act promotes,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, whose agency oversees FWS. “These actions will make an effective and robust law even more successful, and will also reinforce the importance of states, landowners and sound science in that effort.”

The public can comment on the proposed rule until Mid-July.



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