Endangered Species Act Again Challenged By Cattlemen

Jamie JohansenAg Group, Beef, Cattle, environment, Land

PLF_Round_Logo_R0-G70-173B_PMS293C_equivalent-01The Washington Cattlemen’s Association (WCA) has joined with Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) in challenging a federal regulation that imposes harsh Endangered Species Act restrictions for as many as 150 species that Congress did not intend to be automatically covered.

In a petition with the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife, the WCA and PLF demand repeal of a regulation that applies the “take” ban in a blanket way to all species classified as “threatened,” contrary to congressional intent and the statute’s text. This regulation subjects ranchers and farmers in the Pacific Northwest — along with citizens from coast to coast — to the possibility of massive fines and even jail for land use activities that Congress has deemed legal.

The onerous “take” prohibition forbids any activity that even indirectly affects a single member of a targeted species or its habitat. It prohibits a wide range of ordinary land uses, and subjects violators to costly lawsuits, substantial fines, and even imprisonment.

Under the ESA, listed species are categorized as either “endangered” (i.e., facing imminent threat of extinction) or “threatened.” As detailed in the petition and in PLF’s litigation backgrounder for this case, Congress directed that the “take” ban would apply automatically only to “endangered” species. For “threatened” species, it would apply only on a case-by-case basis.

“The WCA is joining this petition because we have members who are harmed by draconian ‘take’ restrictions that aren’t justified either for environmental protection, or under an honest reading of the Endangered Species Act,” said WCA Executive Vice-President Jack Field. “Everyone knows how the ESA restrictions for the spotted owl decimated the Pacific Northwest’s timber industry. What may be less known is that the spotted owl is categorized as ‘threatened,’ not ‘endangered,’ so regulators were overstepping when they imposed the ‘take’ prohibition and destroyed so many timber businesses and jobs. Many farmers and ranchers continue to be victims of illegal overkill by ESA regulators. We’re joining this petition because the bureaucratic lawlessness must end.”

“We are filing this petition to promote responsible environmental policy; defend the rights of ranchers, farmers and, indeed, all American landowners and citizens nationwide; and, above all else, to uphold the rule of law,” said PLF Attorney Jonathan Wood. “As our petition makes clear, the Endangered Species Act does not permit regulators to categorically forbid the take of threatened species. They must examine each individual threatened species on a case-by-case basis. But instead of following Congress’s instructions, the Fish and Wildlife Service has taken the law into its own hands and unilaterally decreed a radical expansion of the ‘take’ prohibition. Through this usurpation of legislative authority, the agency is illegally imposing severe burdens on property owners and small businesses nationwide.