CHEYENNE — The process of removing Endangered Species Act protections from recovered species should be made more straightforward and predictable not only for the benefit of business but of animals and plants still imperiled, two governors told federal lawmakers Tuesday.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has removed wolves and grizzly bears in Montana and Wyoming from federal protection in recent years only to see lawsuits restore their protected status.
Nobody disputes both animals have proliferated — a headache for ranchers as they prey upon sheep and cattle beyond the Yellowstone area. Yet grizzlies remain classified as threatened region-wide, and wolves remain endangered in Wyoming, Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock testified before a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Species lingering on the threatened and endangered lists also are a challenge for coal, oil and gas developers in Wyoming, which exports more energy than any other state, said Mead, a Republican. “How can I tell a company, ‘Come into Wyoming, start your development, but I can’t tell you if you can get it through in one year, three years, five years, a decade?’ ” Mead said.
Republican committee members including Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, suggested changes to the law, such as requiring states to agree to endangered species listings, might be in order.
Mead likewise has made coming up with ideas for changing the act a priority of his yearlong term as chairman of the Western Governors’ Association. He described the act as broken.
Of more than 1,500 species listed as threatened or endangered since the act was passed in 1973, only 30 have been delisted because they have recovered, Mead pointed out.
“The delisting process must become more straightforward so we can focus our collective resources on species that may need more attention,” said Bullock, a Democrat.
Last week brought big news about endangered species when the Interior Department announced the greater sage grouse didn’t warrant protection through the Endangered Species Act. Possible federal protection for the bird would have loomed over practically any project in the sagebrush, not unlike how protections for the northern spotted owl impeded Pacific Northwest logging.
Getting species off the list dominated the briefing. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe told the senators another attempt to delist grizzly bears could come soon.
“Wolves in Wyoming are recovered. It’s one of my greatest disappointments as director to, at this point, have failed,” Ashe added. “We should be working on bull trout, or wolverine, or greater sage grouse that can be helped with protection or conservation actions.”
He characterized the rate of recovery for listed species as a success, however, saying the act had saved 99 percent of listed species from extinction.
Fish and Wildlife is working closely with states to protect species without having to list them, Ashe said. The arctic grayling in Montana and greater sage grouse in Wyoming, Montana and nine other western states are examples, he said.
Providing enough funding for Fish and Wildlife would do the most good for the Endangered Species Act, he said. “When we do, it works. In fact, it works quite well,” Ashe said.
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