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Reform of endangered species law is unneeded, unwanted

Some Jonesborough residents found themselves among area citizens at a National Park Service training in April on a section of the Appalachian Trail near Chestoa. As volunteers, learning proper use of the NPS protocol in finding and documenting high-priority plants, they will be monitoring several of these at other sites along the trail.
Among them are an orchid species, a skullcap with tubular flower and bunched upper lip hiding the stamens, a sunflower with golden flower heads and unique white underside of leaves and a St. John’s-wort herbaceous species with star-like flowers much visited by bees and other insects.
They had a common presence in earlier days on moist rock cliffs, in open woodland areas or in low, wet places and bogs.
Now so rare as no longer to be described in wildflower guides, the Tennessee Heritage Program lists them as “rare and uncommon” to “critically imperiled in the state.”
For plants with the latter designation, “continued existence as a viable component of the state’s flora [is] in jeopardy.” Fortunately for some of them, and for many other rare native plants, the AT corridor – 500 feet on either side of the trail – forms a ribbon of permanently protected lands that may help keep them alive. Like the Tennessee coneflower of mid-state origin earlier, some seedbed patches along the trail may facilitate recovery of plants at risk of disappearance. Any that are endangered across their entire range can receive protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The ESA, however, is again under attack in the Congress. Four GOP-sponsored bills in the House of Representatives, under claim of providing transparency and to “restore the public’s right to know” on endangered-species decisions, would seriously weaken the law.
Despite its high popular support and the law’s effectiveness as a safety net for wildlife species on the brink of extinction, the bills assert the need of ESA “reform.”
Various “reforms” would hinder citizen involvement in the ESA process and needlessly burden the agencies that administer the law, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with new requirements. For example, the service would have to publish online all “the scientific and commercial data underlying each proposed and final determination regarding the potential listing of a species.”
It’s an unfunded mandate in reverse, unnecessary and duplicating what the service already does. For instance, a selection of documents on decisions regarding the endangered Appalachian elktoe mussel, published in the Federal Register or provided to citizens at public hearings, include: Proposed Listing Rule, 1993; Final Listing Rule, 1994; Recovery Plan, 1996; Nolichucky River Survey of Fish and Mussels, 2001; Proposed Critical Habitat Designation, 2001 and Economic Analysis, 2002. Combined, these case documents alone — there were others — number 201 pages of “data.”
America’s children deserve to have our wildlife heritage preserved. Under the misguided ESA “reform” bills, they stand to lose thousands of the plant and animal species that should be theirs to enjoy.
For Tennessee’s children, it could be the skullcap flower and 279 other plants now “critically imperiled” in our state.