“The Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act, or ‘The Wildlife Extinction Bill?’”

Appearing in JNREL Vol. 20, No.2 the following Note was written by former staff member Jacob Eaton. Staff member Jessica Drake wrote the following abstract.

When the Endangered Species Act ("ESA"), 16 U.S.C. §§ 1531-1544 (2005), was enacted, its framers designed it to meet its goals through four specific features: 1) providing discretion to the Secretary of the Interior in listing and delisting species; 2) implementing protection of species on a nationwide level; 3) giving the Secretary the power to acquire and protect from development habitats for these endangered species (a provision in the ESA termed "Critical Habitat Protection"); and 4) creating state programs supported by federal funds and abiding by federal standards. S. Rep. No. 93-307, as reprinted in 1973 U.S.C.C.A.N. 2989, 2990-2991. In the years since its inception, the ESA, while doing tremendous good in the eyes of some, has been criticized for the discretion it provides the secretary in the first feature. Criticisms also arise through the litigation of the critical habitat provision of the ESA. With respect to this provision, courts implemented a balancing test between the interests of the endangered and those of developers – a balance that endangered species all too often lost out on. Critics argue that this further frustrates the effort of ESA in its protective goals. Furthermore, opponents contend that throughout the history of the ESA, few species have moved up or off the lists in the years of protection, and that the act, therefore, does little to protect those species on the list. This lack of movement forces fewer species to be added over time and even those that should be added are often refused because of presumably more pressing concerns.

In response to these types of criticisms, Representative Pombo introduced the Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act of 2005 ("TESRA"), H.R. 3824, 109th Cong. (2005) as a remedy for the existing problems faced by the ESA. In his view, the ESA has largely failed in its attempt to conserve and provide recovery for endangered/threatened species and that this new legislation will ultimately improve the success rate in this area. The TESRA deviates from the ESA in many respects, most radically with a focus on incentives to private landowners to establish conservation plans on their own. The TESRA mechanisms such as cooperative agreements between states and Indian Tribes and improved recovery plans might provide greater protection for endangered species; however, the other deviations from the ESA, those of narrower definitions, broader exceptions, and repeal of critical protections (like habitat protection), could very much outweigh the improvements.

While the push behind the TESRA is one insisting of greater conservation and preservation of endangered species, it comes in disguise. The reality of its implementation is one that will not only frustrate three of the four objectives established by the ESA but also weaken the protections afforded to the endangered and threatened species of the United States created by the ESA. Because TESRA focuses on the private property owner, it focuses less on the species that should be paramount in conservation legislation. The kinds of incentives provided to landowners would be expensive to the budget of the Act and not dependent upon actual implementation, only a proposed plan to conserve sometime in the future. With the narrow focus of the proposed Act, the criticism and problems created by the ESA will not be solved.