On October 16th, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)—an agency of the Department of Interior—announced a rule to delist 21 species from the Endangered Species Act after they were declared extinct. The final rule will go into effect within 30 days of October 17th, 2023.

The agency, housed under the Department of Interior, blamed human action for the 21 species’ plight, but a review of the facts reveals a different story. 

The reality is that humans have been remarkably active in protecting wildlife through the ESA agency. In fact, the 21 species in question were given ESA protections in the 1970s and 1980s. The issue, instead of a lack of protections, is that these existing rules aren’t tailored to recovery plans nor do they incentivize stakeholders to be involved in the process. 

Biden’s Interior Department and preservationist environmentalists have also repeatedly claimed federal funds for ESA protection are insufficient. This spring, these groups asked Congress to double ESA protecting funding to $841 million—up from the current $331 million—for Fiscal Year 2024. The department requested about $100 million in additional funding for species recovery and its Ecological Services program, for instance, for FY2024. 

In its FY2024 Budget GreenBook, DOI/USFWS requested “$384.5 million for the Ecological Services program” to “prevent at-risk species from becoming further imperiled.” 

More federal spending, however, won’t ameliorate the problem nor lead to species recovery. Science Magazine argued conservation spending isn’t always stewarded well as “money is often poured into costly long shots or charismatic organisms.” 

Additionally, the Endangered Species Act doesn’t suffer from a money problem but one of distrust. The ESA has historically pitted private landowners—who become alienated by the law—against conservation efforts due to “sue and settle” lawsuits from frivolous environmental groups that financially benefit from suing agencies to block delisting and recovery efforts. 

Similarly, DOI and USFWS fail to proactively implement ESA protections, when justified, because they don’t protect species “until their populations have reached very low levels.” This problem was first identified in 1993. 

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) became law on December 28th,1973, and has successfully prevented 99% of species from going extinct. However, 3% of listed endangered or threatened species—or 54 species—have been successfully recovered since 1973. 

Recent USFWS literature on ESA Basics says, “The law’s ultimate goal is to ‘recover’ species so they no longer need protection under the Endangered Species Act.” 

Why isn’t the agency fulfilling its mission? Is it straying away from its obligations by prioritizing eco-grief counseling sessions over species recovery, wildlife conservation, and public lands access? As I noted at IWF recently, DOI and USFWS are aligning themselves with an April 2022 Department of Interior Equity Action Plan

While there are many troubling aspects of DOI’s ‘Equity Action Plan,’ one notably sticks out: the aggressive emphasis placed on environmental justice—a principle that fails to deliver justice for nature and the people it purports to help—to be carried out by projects like the Justice40 Initiative through its Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility (DEIA) Council

The Justice40 Initiative is the first ‘whole-of-government effort’ tasked with collaborating with states and localities to push environmental justice and economic growth ‘by delivering at least 40 percent of the benefits from Federal investments in climate and clean energy to disadvantaged communities.’ This initiative was also born out of the aforementioned Day One Executive Order on Racial Equity.

While species extinction news is troubling, upwards of 200 new species are identified and discovered annually. More surprisingly, only 10 percent of existing species on Earth are known to us. Therefore, the state of biodiversity is stronger—not worse off.

To learn more about the Endangered Species Act, read THIS.