James M. Inhofe


Endangered Species Act and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Budget Hearing

I said at the beginning of this Congress that our Committee would conduct vigorous oversight of the Obama administration’s environmental policies, and there are few issues more in need of oversight than the Endangered Species Act.  This Committee has not held a hearing on the Fish and Wildlife Service Budget since 2003, the last time I was Chairman.  I am pleased to have this hearing today, to hear from Director Ashe and our other witnesses about how ESA can be improved and Fish and Wildlife Service can be better managed. 


The Endangered Species Act has gone from a well-intentioned piece of legislation in the 1970’s to one that is dictated by environmental activist groups taking advantage of the adversarial system.  In 2011, the Service entered into closed-door settlements with environmental groups that has required the Service to make final listing decisions on hundreds of species, but has not provided documents about how these settlements were developed despite repeated requests from Congress. 


The species covered by these settlements is staggering, covering almost the entire country, and includes the lesser prairie-chicken, the northern long-eared bat, the greater sage-grouse, and numerous freshwater mussels and fish.


The ESA recovery rate is a mere 2%, even though the entire federal government spent $1.2 billion on species conservation in FY 2013.  This administration touts its success as delisting more species than any other administration.  And it has.  Yet when you note that it has delisted 12 species yet listed hundreds, with hundreds more to be considered, their claim is far less impressive. 


In recent years, the Service has been too focused on listing more species, instead of focusing on the goal of the Act: to recover species.  The Fish and Wildlife Service is forced to designate habitat because of lawsuits, instead of a comprehensive understanding of the species and its surroundings.  The Endangered Species Act must be reformed to clarify the focus and achieve real results.  It can no longer be an ATM machine for environmental groups looking to make money off of statutory deadlines.


In addition to a conversation with Director Ashe about the budget and how ESA can be fixed, I would like to use this opportunity today to examine all legislation with an Endangered Species Act nexus that has been referred to this committee.  Some of these bills are very narrowly tailored to address local issues.  Others are bills that address overarching problems with the direction of the ESA.  In examining these bills, I hope to have a more clear direction in moving forward as to how we can modify the Endangered Species Act and return it to its purpose.


As a part of the ESA modernization, I want to bring the conservation efforts to a more local level.  The Five-State Plan among Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas to address the lesser prairie chicken was a thoughtful, thorough plan.  And it was a plan developed by local communities who know the land and the animal populations.  But the Fish and Wildlife Services listed the lesser prairie chicken, which only works to discourage local efforts.  Communities are not incentivized to develop their own plans if FWS will systematically reject them.  I hope we do not see the FWS make the same mistakes with the Sage Grouse and other species.


I want to thank out witnesses for their time today.  I’d like to extend a special welcome to Director Ashe.  Director Ashe came to Oklahoma at my request and we were pleased to show him the ways in which Oklahomans are working to protect our development and species alike. I think he would agree that the Endangered Species Act can – and must be improved – and that states and local governments have answers and real-world experience we should be relying on to modernize the law.  I look forward to hearing from our witnesses and my fellow committee members on this important issue.