Today, U.S. Senator John Thune (R-South Dakota), Ranking Member of Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, along with a number of committee and subcommittee leaders, sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker requesting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) withdraw proposed rules and a draft policy relating to critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
“These latest proposals follow a troubling trend, at both services, of expanding the ESA beyond its lawful scope,” wrote the senators. “In 2011, the FWS reached a secret sue-and-settle agreement with two radical environmental groups to require listing determinations on more than 250 species across the entire United States.”
“I am deeply concerned that these latest proposals relating to the Endangered Species Act are further examples of the ongoing land grab by the Obama administration, without regard to extreme economic consequences,” said Thune. “The ESA is designed to protect endangered species, not serve as a tool for agencies to intrude on millions of acres of private land. These rules would allow both the FWS and NMFS unprecedented federal authority and would place strict limitations on the land preventing productive and beneficial use.”
Both proposals could have a significant impact on the potential listing of the long-eared bat and greater sage grouse, which inhabit South Dakota and are included on the list of 250 species referenced in the letter. The listing of the long-eared bat as an endangered species, which is expected early next year, could have a catastrophic impact on South Dakota’s timber industry, and would ultimately lead to greatly diminished forest management in the Black Hills. This could result in lost jobs, reduced pine beetle control, and increased fire danger. The sage grouse listing would impact ranching, energy development, and other land uses in parts of western South Dakota.
The proposals would expand the ESA to allow the services to list virtually any area as critical habitat, whether occupied or unoccupied by an endangered species. Additionally, the proposal would allow the services to list areas that are not currently suitable habitat for species as critical habitat under the guise that the habitat may one day be suitable. Critical habitat designations make it more difficult to have any appropriate, productive use of lands, making it concerning that the services would expand their authority in an effort to ensure more critical habitat is designated.Signing today’s letter include Senators David Vitter (R-Louisiana), John Boozman (R-Arkansas), and Marco Rubio (R-Florida). Vitter is the top republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Boozman is the top republican on the EPW Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife. Rubio is the top republican on Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard.