From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 4, Number 22 - August 26, 2004
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ESA hearing convened

by Cat Urbigkit

U.S. Senator Craig Thomas held a one-man subcommittee hearing on Endangered Species Act reform in Casper on Monday, taking testimony into the congressional record for his colleagues to consider.

Thomas convened the hearing on behalf of the Fisheries, Wildlife and Water Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

"I believe the Endangered Species Act's intentions of protecting species are noble, but feel these noble intentions have, in some ways, gone astray," Thomas said, emphasizing that the focus should be on improving the ESA.

Thomas proposed that the ESA should be amended to ensure that decisions concerning threatened and endangered species are made using empirical, field-tested or peer-reviewed data. Thomas also proposed a provision be added that would grant agencies the authority to establish specific recovery goals for each species and de-list the species once the goals are met. Thomas wants recovery plans to be put in place when an animal is listed.

Not surprisingly, many of the Wyoming people who had been invited by Thomas to give testimony talked about grizzly bears and gray wolves. Nearly all who spoke endorsed the reforms proposed by Thomas.

State Representative and Wyoming Legislative Majority Floor Leader Randall Luthi took it a step farther. Along with this written testimony attesting to the "profound failure" of the ESA, Luthi attached color photographs of horses, cattle and dogs that had been killed by protected predators on the Diamond G Ranch near Dubois. Luthi said the photos show the reality of the federal wolf experiment on Wyoming.

Luthi said, "The (ESA) establishes impossible time frames, an extremely low threshold for petitions and lacks the requirements of credible science."

Luthi said that grizzlies have long been recovered, but are still listed under the ESA, while all wolf packs in Wyoming have killed livestock.

Platte County Commissioner Alden Prosser spoke on behalf of the Wyoming Endangered Species Act Coalition, which has been impacted by species ranging from the Preble's mouse to the Wyoming Toad. Prosser testified that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that the critical habitat designation for the Preble's mouse would "siphon some $172 million from our economy." That made concerned citizens take action, which lead to studies that eventually proved that the Preble's mouse is not a distinct species after all.

As Thomas put it, "In other words, Wyoming citizens were forced to take costly measures to protect a species that was never threatened in the first place."

Wyoming Department of Transportation Director Sleeter Dover testified that his agency supports the reforms proposed by Thomas.

Dover testified that bald eagles were proposed for delisting in 1999, but now, five years later, that action still hasn't occurred despite the species' increased numbers and range. As a result, WyDOT still operates under federal restrictions to protect eagles.

"These restrictions added approximately $5 million in cost and one year in time to the Cabin Creek section contract to reconstruct a portion of U.S. 26/89 within an existing right of way," Dover said. With timing restrictions, Dover said, "WyDOT was left with an approximately two and a half-month construction season. The delays and restrictions resulted in a cost increase of about 33 percent."

Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton, while not invited to testify, provided written testimony to the committee. He wrote: "We've seen cavalier statements about losses of livestock to wolves and how insignificant these are when you put them in context of total livestock losses throughout the region. These statements do not recognize the impact to an individual when they find themselves suffering financially because of an endangered species. We find that huge economic costs have to be borne by these individuals for these incrementally small improvements for the listed species."

Wyoming Game and Fish Department Director Terry Cleveland went through a laundry list of proposed changes to the ESA, including that states be granted a "co-equal" role with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for authority under the ESA. Cleveland suggested that currently there is a low level of science used to list a species, while a much higher standard is involved in delisting. He said the ESA "is necessary, but in need of many changes." Cleveland also pushed for increased federal funding to support state work for federally protected species.

Dru Bower, vice president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, pointed out that the ESA doesn't provide federal agencies with the authority to inventory private lands for the potential existence of federally protected species.

"Despite this lack of authority, federal agencies have been able, in the case of split estate situations, to require a federal lessee to inventory the private surface and provide such information to the federal agency," Bower explained. "The ESA should be revised to clearly state that no federal agency could require an inventory of private surface merely because a proposed project is covering the underlying federal minerals."

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