The association gathered in Cody on Thursday and Friday to discuss the ESA and share successes, policy challenges, solutions, case studies and best practices with multiple panels of experts from across the country. The information gathered at the …
The Endangered Species Act has not been effective in preserving wildlife. It should be changed so that states play a more active role and listed species can be worked on in a manner that best suits each region, according to the Western Governors’ Association.
The association gathered in Cody on Thursday and Friday to discuss the ESA and share successes, policy challenges, solutions, case studies and best practices with multiple panels of experts from across the country. The information gathered at the forum will be used by the association to create an action plan with the long-term objective of improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the ESA.
“We recognize the West would not be the West without wildlife,” said chairman of the association and Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead.
The organization is bipartisan with alternating Republican and Democrat chairmen — all with the common goal of improving the effectiveness of the ESA and other Western issues. The goal of the association is to focus on areas with a common interest and put politics aside, Mead said.
The ESA was started in 1973 and since then 2,220 species have been listed and only 59 have been delisted. Of those delisted, 10 were delisted because of extinction and 19 were delisted due to errors in getting listed. Only 30 were delisted for recovery — a 1.3 percent success rate.
“We need better than a 1 percent success rate,” Mead said. “I chose this initiative because it is critical to the West to get this right, it is critical to our wildlife, our energy sector, recreation, tourism and government — all the things we cherish in the West.”
Due to this low success rate and many other reasons, the ESA generates lawsuits that do not help species, Mead said. ESA-related cases cost taxpayers $21 million in attorneys’ fees to outside groups involved in ESA lawsuits from 2001-10, according to the Government Accountability Office.
In addition to courtroom hurdles, the ESA also has a history of moving back population goals.
In 1975, grizzly bears were listed as threatened and the numbers for bears needed went up. There are about 757 grizzlies in the Yellowstone area now, well above historic goals for populations, Mead said.
“Conservation of endangered species and keeping them from getting there is not simple,” said Gary Frazer, assistant director of ecological services for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “It takes a lot of listening and an open mind.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service found ways to help landowners if a species on their property ever fell under ESA protection, Frazer said.
Work continues with Fish and Wildlife Service to get the grizzly bear delisted, Mead said.
“We can agree on numbers and the species has recovered …but too often that means nothing,” Mead said.
A similar story is true for the gray wolf, Mead said. A state plan was made to allow for a healthy wolf population under state management, but the ESA created a roadblock and it was back to the courtrooms.
“Lawyers are not threatened or endangered, they are thriving,” Mead said.
Mead questioned how much money, time and effort is spent on species that have recovered while ignoring other species that need help.
“When you are over 1 percent of actual recovery, you aren’t addressing the others,” Mead said. “This is part of the reason it is so important for all of you to be here.”
Collaborative efforts to keep sage grouse off the ESA list are similar to what the association is aiming toward for revising the ESA, he said.
“It did not come by from one interest group, there was a diverse group,” Mead said. “It was done almost in spite of where we are with the ESA. We can learn from it and use it.”
The association wants to increase the states’ role in preserving endangered species in their regions since wildlife preservation approaches work differently based on regions — basically, it is not a one-size-fits-all fix.
“Wyoming wildlife belongs to the people of Wyoming,” Mead said.
The forum in Cody was the first of four or five workshops to address the ESA. More forums will be held in Boise, Idaho, on Jan. 19; Oahu, Hawaii on Feb. 12, and Colorado at a date to be announced in March.
“We are recovering and delisting species at an unprecedented pace,” Frazer said. “We are on track by the end of the administration to delist more species than previous ones combined.”
Thursday’s panels discussed species conservation and the ESA as it relates to:
• Energy and mining,
• Sportsmen, recreation and environmental interests,
• Agriculture and forestry,
• Government and quasi-governmental entities
Experts were later brought in to present the details for recovery and delisting, conservation practices and tools, and to discuss the panels from earlier in the forum. For details on the panels for each topic, see future editions of the Tribune.