Endangered Species Act: How it Affects Rangelands

November 18, 2015 Print Friendly and PDF


By Jamie Keyes, Utah State University Extension 

Regardless of its size, once a plant or animal is listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) it has a considerable impact on its surrounding environment. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) have the authority to list species as either endangered or threatened under the ESA. ‘Endangered’ species are considered close to extinction throughout its habitat, and ‘threatened’ species are predicted to become endangered in the near future unless restorative measures are taken . When a rangeland plant or animal species is listed under the ESA, landowners, ranchers, recreationalists and surrounding communities are significantly affected.

Rangelands are vital to western ranchers and the plants and animals that live on those lands. Listing a species under the ESA generates issues not only for the rancher but for the species as well. Government agency restrictions and limitations placed on the area inevitably change the habitat. Precautions the rancher takes to ensure a safe, healthy environment, such as predator control and rangeland monitoring, suddenly become irrelevant when the rancher is banned from grazing. According to the Tri-State Livestock News article Cleaning up the Act, ranchers are encouraged to talk to their local government officials about an economic-impact plan. An economic-impact plan insures the government fully understands the situation and the potential consequences that may arise from listing a species.

recent report conducted by the Committee on Natural Resources discovered that the FWS was not following the appropriate protocol or conducting thorough research for listing a species. The decision to list a species as threatened or endangered must be established from the most accurate scientific data available. After explanatory documents are created for each species, a scientist with abundant knowledge of the species and no conflict of interest will peer review the document.

The report found that, “The FWS routinely bases its listing decisions on science that has been developed by the same people who have been recruited by the FWS to serve as peer reviewers. Rather than providing a fresh perspective on how the science was conducted or whether the listing decision is supported by science, the peer reviewers are in fact being asked to review how the FWS has characterized their studies and research.”  

Ranchers are not the only ones impacted by the ESA, landowners can have similar issues. Congressman Jason Smith of Missouri said the ESA "is increasingly used to erode private property rights." This can found in the article Congressman Jason Smith Capitol Report: The Broken Endangered Species Act

The Property and Environment Research Center website shares a specific story on how one man’s property rights were restricted when an red-cockaded woodpecker, a listed endangered species, created a home on his land. Ben Cone, a landowner in North Carolina, frequently cleared understory and used controlled-burning practices to create a more productive habitat. His practices eventually attracted the woodpecker. Cone’s ability to continue to maintain his land became limited by the ESA. Now, approximately 46 percent of Cone’s land is controlled by the FWS. Read more about his story at The Endangered Species Act: Making Innocent Species the Enemy.

Photo by tatiana-gettelman / CC BY http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.