House committee seeks endangered species input
Casper – With four members of the United State House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources present, Wyoming citizens and public lands users provided witness testimony at the committee’s Sept. 4 hearing on “State and Local Efforts to Protect Species, Jobs, Property and Multiple Use Amidst a New War on the West.”
“Congresswoman Lummis and I are co-chairmen of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) Working Group,” explained Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) during the Sept. 4 meeting. “The working group is made of members from around the country who understand the need to carefully examine the ESA.”
“Executive orders and actions by litigious groups are wreaking havoc on people affected by the ESA,” Hastings continued. “This includes multiple use of lands designed for multiple use, rural economics, energy development and some state’s own conservation activities.”
Other committee members present included Representatives Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.)
“The ESA is an act that was well intended and has many good purposes, but it has been prone to some abuse on the part of those who want to shut down development and access to energy in the name of preserving species,” commented Lamborn. “We all want to make sure our heritage and species are protected and restored, but we have a balance to reach.”
Citing that the authorization for the ESA lapsed more than 25 years ago, Lummis marked the hearing as both timely and appropriate.
“This hearing is centered in a part of the country that has been ground zero for the development of the ESA,” she added.
“During the first half of the 20th century, the nation had bountiful and almost unlimited natural resources that we exploited in a manner that caused concern for people such that during the second half of the 20th century, the command and control of big government and litigious policy by courtrooms, rather than policy by Congress, seemed to dominate the manner that natural resource policy was implemented,” she continued.
Lummis noted that she supports 21st century conservation – a conservation ethic recognizing new and progressive approaches and sound science combined with the ability to utilize resources in a smart, scientifically-based manner focusing on utilizing private sector principles and voluntary efforts to create a better overall environment.
Hastings, Lummis, Lamborn and Daines heard from Natrona County Commissioner Rob Hendry, Wyoming Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife Executive Director Robert Wharff, Taylor Environmental Consulting Owner Renee Taylor, Sweetwater River Conservancy Managing Partner Jeff Meyer and rancher Meghan Lally.
Hendry, also a rancher from Lysite, emphasized the economic impact of species protected by the ESA, such as wolves and grizzly bears, on ranchers and their surrounding communities.
“In 2012, we had approximately 1,000 head of cattle killed, a value of $742,000, and 1,500 at a value of $273,000,” he said.
The dollars lost from those livestock deaths, Hendry explained, will not roll over in communities across Wyoming, resulting in major economic impacts.
Other impacts, he commented include impacts resulting from regulations that leads to decrease in development or loss of private property rights, which can have major impacts.
“The ESA is 40 years old,” said Hendry. “It can be characterized like an old ranch truck. It serves a very useful purpose but is in bad need of repair.”
Wharff, who emphasized the wildlife consequences of listing species, mentioned that it is important species are removed from the ESA when they exceed recovery goals.
Utilizing the wolf as an example, he noted that the species is not suffering, but rather, it thrives in the northern U.S. and Canada. Wildlife population distribution maps demonstrate dhis point.
“Why are we putting our heritage at risk to protect a species that is anything but threatened?” Wharff asked.
Taylor noted that selective use of scientific literature is problematic.
“The agencies tell us that all decisions must be made using peer-reviewed literature, but we also see non-peer-reviewed literature, including gray literature, while information from private parties is ignored,” she emphasized.
In addition, she marked that moving conservation targets make it impossible for land managers to meet their goals.
“Agency response to our concerns is, ‘The sky is falling, and we must do whatever we can to conserve and act immediately,’” Taylor added, noting that the response is unjustified.
A second concern marked by Taylor was the lack of ability to adhere to timelines by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).
“The ESA specifies timeframes that not only allows plaintiffs to set agency priorities but also take staff away from landowners and states trying to work within the act,” Taylor commented.
Along with highlighting the problems, witnesses provided ideas for solutions to repair the ESA.
Hendry offered that listing petitions should be more expansive and require more scientific data.
“The cost of filing a petition is not more than a 48 cent stamp,” he commented. “A listing should be required to include a reasonable amount of peer-reviewed science to support the claim and available data on its historic range in North America.”
He continued that the designation of crucial habitat should always include an analysis of the other wildlife and species that will be impacted.
“Most importantly, I would like to emphasize the immeasurable social and economic impacts on ranchers and local government,” Hendry noted.
Wharff mentioned that some of the problems caused by the ESA could be alleviated in state management of wildlife.
When asked by the panel about the potential of state primacy in managing endangered species, Taylor commented, “The concept of primacy relative to the ESA is one that is very intriguing.”
Her primary concern with the idea, however, was funding.
“I’m not sure where the state of Wyoming would come up with the funds to be able to afford management of the ESA,” Taylor explained. “However, if the states have a valid conservation program, it should be accepted by FWS and allowed to play out.”
Single species management of wildlife, Wharff added, is also a problem the ESA seems to promote.
“Single species management simply doesn’t work,” he said.
Lally cited solutions in potential collaborative opportunities.
“I believe collaborative processes are a great tool for increasing success of the ESA,” she said, providing the example of Wyoming’s Bighorn sheep and domestic sheep working group partnership.
In addition to the benefits offered in collaboration, Lally commented that by simplifying processes to allow land managers to effectively work on the lands they lease or own would increase conservation abilities.
“Industry and agriculture create stability and protect species where they currently exist and are thriving,” she added.
However, as noted by Wharff, working with the opposing side isn’t easy.
“I work with a number of different groups,” he said. “The biggest thing I try to do is to pull everyone to the middle. When we move to extremes we tend to get into dangerous territory.”
Hastings echoed Wharff’s sentiment, noting, “I recognize that this committee is a full committee hearing and should be bipartisan in nature. We opened an invitation to the other side. They could have had witnesses, but they declined the invitation.”