Please submit testimony in SUPPORT of SB 2277 Relating to Endangered And Threatened Species, which will be heard on Tuesday, Feb. 7, at 2:45 p.m. before the Senate Committees on Energy and Environment and on Water, Land and Housing. The hearing is in Conference Room 225.
SB 2277 would ensure effective protection for Hawai‘i’s endangered and threatened species through citizen enforcement. Talking points are below:
1. The bill would empower concerned citizens to ensure that Hawai‘i’s critically imperiled species receive adequate protection from illegal, unpermitted harm. The federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) has included such a citizen suit provision from its inception in 1973. In the intervening nearly four decades, countless endangered species have benefited from citizen suits, including such iconic Hawaiian species as the green sea turtle, monk seal, and ‘alala (Hawaiian crow).
2. Unfortunately, the federal ESA prohibits take (i.e., killing, injury, and other harm) only with respect to fish and wildlife. The ESA largely entrusts protection of endangered and threatened plants to the state. Hawaiian plants, which are the building blocks of native ecosystems, constitute over 80% of the species on Hawai‘i’s list of endangered and threatened species and nearly 25% of all listed species in the entire United States.
3. While Hawai‘i’s endangered species law (H.R.S. Chapter 195D) has strong protections for imperiled species on paper, including prohibiting unpermitted harm to listed plants, it is rarely enforced. In enacting the federal ESA, Congress recognized that, whether due to budgetary limitations or lack of political will, government wildlife agencies alone could not be relied on to ensure adequate protection of imperiled species. Accordingly, Congress authorized citizens to supplement government enforcement through actions seeking prospective injunctive relief that would prevent future harm to endangered and threatened species. Especially during the current tough economic times, when budgets are tight, citizen oversight is vital to ensure adequate protection for Hawai‘i’s imperiled species.
4. The bill would also lift the sunset date on the provisions giving the Board of Land and Natural Resources the authority to grant licenses for incidental take. When these provisions were first added to Chapter 195D in 1997, the conservation community was concerned about the lack of adequate checks-and-balances, resulting in imposition of the sunset date. The addition of a meaningful citizen suit provision will provide the necessary independent oversight, allowing the sunset clause to be removed.