Four new amendments to the 41-year-old Endangered Species Act (ESA) will require that government agencies involved with the conservation and protection of species to become more "transparent" to the public about their decisions.
One amendment, still being discussed, will require surveyors to count all of the animals in both private and public lands. This will allow the federal government to get a full count of all endangered or threatened species.
This bill may allow for researchers to discover that some species are no longer endangered. This bill was introduced by Chris Stewart, a Republican Representative from Utah who believes that this amendment will make the endangered species list smaller. The bill is seen by some as a way to "rein in" the ESA.
In a press release, Stewart said he agrees with the fundamental purpose of the Endangered Species Act -- to protect species from extinction -- but says the law as it is now goes beyond that.
"Unfortunately, not all laws are perfect," Stewart said. "And in this case, the interpretation of the law is resulting in inaccurate data collection, potentially preventing healthy and growing species from being removed from the threatened or endangered list."
Stewart cites the Utah prairie dog as an example, saying the species is only counted on federal lands, which results in a gross miscalculation of their total number.
"There are large populations of prairie dogs in yards, parks, cemeteries, and fields that never get counted toward recovery because they don't live on federal lands," Stewart said.
Defenders of Wildlife said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does count endangered species on private lands when the option is available.
But counting species on private lands can be problematic because it assumes all private property owners will be cooperative It is also a practice that can have wide variations depending on the time of year and weather conditions and that counting should be seen as only one of a number of important data points in determining the status of a species.