Do you believe every Federal law is perfectly written and perfectly implemented? Do you believe flawed Federal regulations should be updated and improved when better information, processes and science are available?

Earlier this month, two federal government agencies responsible for managing and protecting wildlife announced proposals to update regulations under the Endangered Species Act. For context, the ESA was written and signed into law in 1973 by Richard Nixon, a year of bell-bottom jeans, disco music and the end of the Vietnam War. The last major updates to the law were made in 1982, more than 30 years ago. And the regulations haven’t been updated since 1986.

The goal of the update is simple: Implement the ESA more efficiently and rigorously, making sure that conservation efforts occur where they are most needed. After receiving input from the public, the two agencies spent months working through a collaborative process with professional biologists and wildlife experts (not politicians) — who worked for both Democratic and Republican administrations — to identify what works best and what needs change. The public now has another chance to review and comment on the proposal.

Unfortunately, this well-intentioned effort has been obscured and misrepresented. Before the ink was dry on the announcement, special interest groups and media outlets labeled the attempt to modernize and improve the ESA as a political effort to “gut” one of America’s most iconic conservation laws. Environmental lobbyists warned that any change to the ESA would “put species at risk of extinction; slam a wrecking ball into the most crucial protections; and imperil more than 1,600 threatened and endangered species” whose “lives depend on the law.”

These are serious and scary threats for Oregonians, who take great pride in being responsible stewards of our public land, water, air and wildlife populations. So, what’s really going on?

Let’s start with what the proposed regulation changes don’t do. Despite alarmist claims, the proposed changes do not eliminate or reduce existing protections for any threatened or endangered species. None. The proposed changes do not prohibit or restrict any species from being listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA in the future, or from receiving necessary federal protections to avoid extinction. In fact, the proposed changes do not alter the Endangered Species Act by one single word — an action only Congress can take. Rather, this exercise is exclusively about improving the process and implementation of the ESA by updating old regulations.

Here’s what the proposed changes to ESA regulations would do:

First, they would allow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to design species-specific plans and protections to replace the current one-size-fits-all approach for all species listed as threatened. This change would bring the service’s approach to threatened species in line with NOAA Fisheries, which protects anadromous fish like salmon and has successfully used this model for decades. It will also allow conservation efforts and resources to be targeted where they will make the most difference.

Second, the revised regulations establish concrete goals and clear criteria for determining whether a species has recovered and is no longer in need of protection under the act. This is a step forward to make sure that government efforts, money and time are focused on species that most need them. This change will increase the effectiveness of conservation efforts under the ESA.

Third, when multiple government agencies are involved in wildlife management decisions, the proposal would clarify what information is needed to ensure government actions do not jeopardize listed species or destroy critical habitat. The proposal would also put a time limit on government consultations, so that federal projects and recovery actions are not left in limbo for years or decades, which doesn’t benefit any species.

Undeniably, the ESA has led to some conservation successes. At other times, its implementation has led to devastating impacts on rural communities and economies without much conservation benefit to show in the end.

Instead of politicizing modest process reforms to endangered species regulations, those seriously interested in wildlife conservation and protecting the natural resources we all value have a rare opportunity to work together for a common objective: Ensuring federal rules with the goal of protecting wildlife populations are effective, modern and based in science — not in ideology and emotion. The latter will not help or save imperiled species.

Travis Joseph of Springfield, Oregon is the President/CEO of the American Forest Resource Council (AFRC), a trade association representing the forest products industry. Before AFRC, Joseph spent eight years working for Congressman Peter DeFazio, the House Natural Resources Committee, and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in Washington, D.C.

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