Bringing the Endangered Species Act into the 21st Century

The ESA was passed in a bipartisan manner in 1973 in an effort to prevent the extinction of the iconic bald eagle. In the nearly 40 years since then, however, it has become so highly contentious, political, and litigious that it has become a policy failure. Nearly 2,000 species have been listed as threatened or endangered, but only 21 have been recovered. Any other program with such a poor success rate would long since have been terminated. Today the ESA is a tool for controlling land and water, not for preserving species.

As a life-long Idahoan, I know the value to our state, our nation, and our planet of protecting species from extinction and conserving habitat and ecosystems. I am concerned, however, that the ESA is outdated. Congress desperately needs to modernize the ESA to make it work as Congress intended. Funding authorization for ESA programs expired nearly two decades ago, but because the Appropriations Committee continues to fund them, third parties who profit from the current broken system have refused to come to the table to bring the ESA into the 21st century. As a result, desperately needed efforts to modernize the ESA are at a stalemate.

As a member of the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, I believe that the practice of continuing to fund unauthorized programs has made it difficult to modernize landmark laws like the ESA—laws that were widely supported but no longer work as Congress originally intended. When I was Chairman of the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, I authored legislation that did not include any funding for unauthorized programs to list new species and designate critical habitat. At a time of record national deficits and significantly reduced federal spending, we cannot afford to continue funding outdated and unauthorized government programs, and my hope is that this effort will incentivize stakeholders, agencies, and interested Members of Congress to work together to bring the ESA into the 21st century.