It is about time.

A few weeks ago the Interior Department announced proposals to modify the way it enforces the Endangered Species Act of 1973 to make the law a bit less onerous for private businesses and land owners. The agency is currently accepting comments on its proposals.

One of the proposals is to remove the phrase “without reference to possible economic or other impacts of such determination.” Listings of species as endangered or threatened would still be made “solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available.” The change simply allows the public to be informed of potential impacts on the economy.

“Since 1982, Congress has consistently expressed support for informing the public as to the impacts of regulations in subsequent amendments to statutes and executive orders governing the rulemaking process,” the proposal states.

The law currently defines a “threatened species” as “any species which is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.” The proposal is to more specifically define what the “foreseeable future” is on a case-by-case basis. Self-styled environmentalists would define the “foreseeable future” as any remote risk at any time in the future.

The proposal seeks to better define “critical habitat.” In the past the federal land agencies have sought to block such things as farming, grazing, logging, recreational uses and mineral exploration on land deemed “critical habitat” for the dusky gopher frog in Louisiana and the Canadian lynx in Colorado, though neither species had been spied in those areas for decades.

The agency further proposes to better define when, why and how a species might be delisted.

The Property and Environment Research Center, which refers to itself as the home of free market environmentalism, reports that currently 1,623 species are listed under the act, but only 39 species have been determined to be recovered since the law passed, while 11 have become extinct.

The environmentalists rage against the modest changes claiming the law has successfully kept 98 percent of listed species from going extinct, while others focus on the fact only 2 percent have been recovered, largely due to the fact enforcement in the past has only been aimed at blocking human endeavors and little or nothing has been done to actually increase the population.

According to an article in PERC’s magazine, Colorado wildlife agencies took it on their own to reintroduce several endangered fish and the Canadian lynx, both successfully.

“The federal government threatened to sue to stop the state’s recovery efforts, claiming that even possession of endangered species — much less raising them in captivity and reintroducing them into the wild — was prohibited without federal permits,” the magazine reported. “And the government did not want to permit our hatchery or any restocking program.”

When the state threatened to hold press conferences exposing opposition to species recovery efforts, the agency backed down rather than be shown to be hypocritical about “protecting” species.

Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming has a draft bill that would require species recovery plans and give states more leeway in conservation efforts. Democrats are almost universally opposed, apparently preferring to allow nature to take its course, even if that means 98 percent of species remain listed and economic endeavors are blocked in perpetuity.

We support the modest Interior Department changes to the regulatory language, as well as Barrasso’s bill to actually do something about species recovery. — TM