Lawsuits not hurting ESA, says FWS director
Written byLAURA PETERSEN, Greenwire
The House GOP's campaign against environmental groups that sue the federal government over endangered species management is not the way to improve the Endangered Species Act, according to Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe.
"On the scale of the challenges that we face implementing the Endangered Species Act, litigation doesn't even show up on the radar screen," Ashe said in an interview this week marking his one-year anniversary as director.
Invasive species, habitat fragmentation, water scarcity, climate change and availability of reliable scientific information are all much more pressing issues than lawsuits, Ashe said.
In an effort to overhaul the Endangered Species Act, House Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) has focused particularly on the high number of lawsuits brought against the government under the law's provision that allows citizens to sue if they disagree with a listing decision or a delayed decisionmaking process and have their legal fees paid for if they win.
Hastings has characterized the environmental groups that file suits regularly as "lawsuit-happy organizations that make a living off of suing the federal government" and called litigation costs "one of the greatest weaknesses" of the Endangered Species Act (E&E Daily, June 20).
Ashe dismissed the attacks as a "good sound bite," noting that the amount of money the agency has paid out in legal fees is a small fraction of the $200 million a year it spends to implement the ESA and hardly enough to support entire nonprofit organizations.
"Can I get frustrated at [Center for Biological Diversity] and WildEarth Guardians, or my good friend Jamie Clark at Defenders [of Wildlife] when they decide to sue us? Yeah, I can," Ashe said. "But on balance, I think it's a strength for the Endangered Species Act, and not a weakness."
The provision has been especially beneficial during presidential administrations that "did not have a friendly view" of implementing the law and protecting imperiled plants and animals, he said.
Last year, FWS struck a massive settlement agreement with environmental groups that set a six-year timeline for the agency to make decisions on 251 candidate species and initial findings on hundreds of other species. In exchange, the groups promised to not file more lawsuits.
The settlement has been "quite a success," with both sides being "faithful" to the bargain, Ashe said.
Asked how he would reform the Endangered Species Act, Ashe said "reform is too strong of a word."
However, he said the law can be better. The biggest improvement he would like to make is to increase financial incentives for endangered species conservation.