House Passes Endangered Species Reform

Published November 1, 2005

The U.S. House of Representatives on September 29 approved legislation to reform and modernize the Endangered Species Act (ESA). After passing the House Committee on Resources on September 22 in a bipartisan, 26-12 vote, the legislation was approved by the entire House by a vote of 229-193. Thirty-six Democrats provided the margin of victory.

Citizens, States Given More Input

Among the key reforms:

  • when the federal government forbids a citizen to use his or her property, the federal government must compensate the citizen for the fair market value of the loss of use, under the rationale that such a prohibition would be considered a “taking”;
  • the federal government will offer monetary grants to private citizens who voluntarily engage in efforts to aid species recovery;
  • science-based recovery plans will replace critical habitat designations as the primary means of species recovery;
  • the federal government will reach out to state officials and seek from them greater input and cooperation regarding species designations and recovery efforts.

Unintended Consequences Addressed

The House Committee on Resources noted in a background information release, “After more than three decades of implementation, the Endangered Species Act has failed to achieve its purpose of recovering endangered species to healthy and sustainable populations. In addition, the unintended consequences of this law have caused a tremendous amount of conflict with landowners and local communities alike. As such, Congress must update and modernize the ESA to strengthen its results for species recovery.

“Less than 1% (10 of roughly 1300 species) have recovered in the Act’s history,” added the committee’s release. “Only 6% of all listed species are classified as ‘improving.'”

Democrats Support Reform

Prior to the committee vote, Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-CA) signaled the bipartisan support for the bill. “I am pleased to join my colleagues, Chairman Richard Pombo and Congressman Greg Walden, to announce the introduction of the ‘Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act,'” Cardoza said.

“Over the past 30 years since its introduction, the Endangered Species Act has gone far off course from its original intent,” Cardoza continued. “Today, lawsuits and court mandates dictate species recovery, not science. This new bill puts more resources towards recovering species while at the same time creating transparency for those landowners whose land may be needed for species conservation.”

Added Cardoza, “I believe this bill is an innovative approach to solving the problems with the Act that I have been working on for the last two and a half years, and I look forward to moving this bill quickly though Congress.”

“Having this much bipartisan support coming from the committee sends a very strong signal to the rest of the House,” Pombo (R-CA) said after his committee approved the legislation and sent it to the full House. “Improving this law for the 21st century has become a conservative, liberal, and common-sense cause for this Congress.”

“This legislation is important for Inland Empire [Southern California] communities,” added fellow California Democrat Rep. Joe Baca. “By removing burdensome regulations and disincentives for landowners and providing compensation for land that cannot be used for development, this legislation will allow our communities to benefit and to create jobs.”

Grassroots Support

Chuck Cushman, executive director of the American Land Rights Association, headquartered in Battle Ground, Washington, reported strong citizen support for the legislation.

“We’re thrilled that the House has passed a bill that is going to update and modernize the Endangered Species Act so that it actually recovers species while relieving some of the regulatory burdens on people,” Cushman said. “This bipartisan legislation offers an incentives-based program that encourages cooperation and species recovery–as opposed to the current top-down approach that emphasizes penalties and threats.”

Cushman’s sentiment was echoed in testimony given September 21 by Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D-WY) and Gov. Bill Owens (R-CO) to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “The act has become too contentious; the parties too litigious; there is too little collaboration and trust between stakeholders; and conservation efforts have suffered as a result,” the governors jointly testified.

Bill Moves to Senate

Before becoming law, the legislation must be approved by the Senate. Bipartisan support in the House does not necessarily guarantee success in the Senate, Cushman noted.

“It is going to be a tough fight,” Cushman predicted. “It will take a lot of work from people who care about communities and private citizens’ rights. It will take senators taking a courageous stand and recognizing that there is too much conflict under the current system that impedes species recovery.

“It is long overdue that we fix this law,” Cushman added. “Private property owners should be enlisted as allies in recovery efforts instead of being treated as foes.”

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.

For more information …

Background information on Endangered Species Act reform can be found on the Web site of the House Resources Committee at

Additional research and commentary on the ESA is available through PolicyBot™, The Heartland Institute’s free online research database. Point your Web browser to, click on the PolicyBot™ button, and select the topic/subtopic combination Environment/Endangered Species.