RENO, Nev. (AP) — Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller wants to rewrite the Endangered Species Act to ban any new listings without specific approval from Congress and the governors of states where the fish or wildlife live.
The measure he and Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky reintroduced in the Senate this week also would automatically remove a species from the protected list after five years unless Congress voted to keep it there. In cases where a listed species is found only in one state, that governor would be in charge of implementing any protections.
Heller said the dramatic changes are needed because environmentalists increasingly use the act as a tool to block development of public and private lands at the expense of economic growth. He’s most concerned about ongoing federal efforts to protect the imperiled sage grouse across much of the West.
“Nevadans — not Washington bureaucrats — know how to best protect the sage grouse,” Heller said in support of the Endangered Species Management Self-Determination Act first introduced in 2013 and again in 2015.
Critics say it would dismantle the landmark legislation signed by President Richard Nixon and put hundreds of species on a path to extinction.
“Gutting this very successful law may win over special interest donors, but it does nothing to address the conservation of iconic and important species under threat today,” Democratic Rep. Dina Titus of Nevada said.
Similar proposals have failed to make it out of congressional committees in recent years. But some ranchers, miners and developers are optimistic things will change under President Donald Trump.
Aides to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke didn’t respond to requests for comment. But the ex-Montana senator has made it clear he shares many of their concerns.
Too often, people in Washington, D.C., make decisions about areas they’ve never visited, and they have “zero accountability to the impacted communities,” Zinke said this week when Trump signed an executive order directing him to review the designation of dozens of national monuments on federal lands.
The Paul-Heller bill has been assigned to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which held a hearing on it in 2015.
Dan Ashe, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director under President Barack Obama, testified at the time he was most concerned about terminating protection of species five years after they were listed.
“The net effect would be an endless cycle in which species would gain and then lose legal protection and the services’ resources would be spent on repetitive processes rather than on meaningful conservation,” Ashe said. “During periods in which a lapsed listing was awaiting a new congressional resolution, any conservation gains could be wiped out.”