Montana Public Radio

Gianforte Bill Outlines Further ESA Rollbacks

Sep 25, 2019

While federal debate rages over the future of the Endangered Species Act, Montana’s representative in the U.S. House says the Trump administration's rollbacks last month don’t go far enough.

Republican Greg Gianforte introduced a bill making it easier to delist species protected by the ESA at a Congressional Western Caucus roundtable in Washington D.C. Tuesday.

“We must restore the ESA back to its original purpose of recovering species, not lining the pockets of environmental extremist groups,” he said.

Called the LIST Act, it was part of a suite of nearly 20 bills that would weaken ESA protections across the country.

The legislation comes in the wake of Department of the Interior rules finalized in August that dull the ESA. Critics say those rules paint a bleak future for vulnerable species as biodiversity plummets across the globe. Gianforte and other supporters of ESA changes say the document needs modernization, more efficiency and more transparency.

“It’s now become a bludgeoning tool for frivolous lawsuits from special interest groups,” Gianforte said. “Abuse of the ESA is also shutting down our forest management in Montana. It’s been weaponized, and now we’re at a point where we, instead of managing our forests, we breathe them every summer.”

Gianforte blames ESA-related lawsuits over logging projects for more intense wildfires blazing across the west. Environmentalists and forestry experts point to a century of federal fire suppression that’s created dense, overgrown stands, while warmer, drier weather simultaneously has turned forests into matchbooks.

Gianforte also condemns ongoing litigation surrounding the Yellowstone-area grizzly bear. The species was delisted in the summer of 2017, but a federal judge restored protections last fall. The case remains bound up in appeals.

Last February, Gianforte introduced a bill that would mandate Congress to remove protections for the bruin, meaning the process could skip the usual delisting procedures through the Department of the Interior.

On the same day Gianforte was introducing his bill, a U.S. House subcommittee was considering additional legislation overturning the Interior’s ESA rollbacks. Democratic leaders decried those rollbacks as a triumph of industry interests over ecological good.

As the fight plays out along fiercely partisan lines, all proposed bills face uphill battles.