To keep ranching alive: Amendments to the Endangered Species Act would make regs more ag-friendly
July 11, 2018
There are two kinds of ranchers – those already being impacted by the Endangered Species Act, and those that will be, says the Executive Director for the Public Lands Council.
Ethan Lane, Executive Director of the Public Lands Council, an affiliate of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, says that Wyoming's Senator John Barrasso is planning to introduce legislation that would modernize the Endangered Species Act.
According to a news release from the Republican who serves as chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Barrasso's legislation would reauthorize the ESA for the first time since 1992.
His draft legislation focuses on requiring more state involvement in the ESA process, and calls for a more scientific approach to monitoring and delisting of species.
The Western Governor's Association helped draft the legislation, said Barrasso's news release, which will help to actually recover species rather than keeping them on "life support," he said.
The legislation calls for a recovery team of equal numbers of state and federal representatives to determine how best to manage each listed species, said Lane. More state and local involvement is crucial in successful recovery of species, and ultimate delisting, he said. "The legislation creates a level playing field for the national and state governments."
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Cindy Siddoway, whose southeastern Idaho sheep ranch has been hugely impacted by the ESA said the proposed legislation is "common sense" and that her favorite aspect of the proposal is the state and local involvement.
"Anytime you can get the federal government and the state, and locally affected parties all at the same table, you get better results."
South Dakota rancher and R-CALF USA Sheep Committee chairman Bill Kluck agrees. Prairie dogs and other critters have affected his ranch, and it's only a matter of time before big predators like wolves are traveling to his neck of the woods, he believes.
"I support the state involvement, and I'd even like to see them go a step further and require county involvement," said the Mud Butte sheep and cattle rancher.
Another big change would be the requirement of recovery plans for each species. Lane said nearly half of all listed species do not even have a recovery plan – making it impossible for government agencies to know if or when a species has grown in number or reached a suitable quantity to warrant delisting, which should always be the ultimate goal, he said.
"They will have to set science-based benchmarks for recovery. That is tremendous progress, it gives us a goal so we know when we reach the finish line," he said.
Research-based goals will de-politicize the delisting process, he said. "When the goal number has been reached, let's move forward."
The science-based nature of the recovery goals are important, Siddoway says. "I think it will be really good because we have needed to look at the ESA for so many years and nobody has been really successful in changing it."
Kluck agrees that real, hard numbers in recovery plans would be an improvement – otherwise the "goal" is an ever-moving target. "When the feds said we had to start preserving the prairie dog, we were told that if we could get 60,000 acres of prairie dogs in South Dakota, that it would be enough. We asked them to survey, and they found that there were over 100,000 acres already. And yet, they still wouldn't support any control measures."
Another major change to the current ESA language would prevent lawsuits against delisting decisions for five years. In other words, when the USFWS determines that a species has grown to the point that it should be delisted, an organization or individual could not file a lawsuit that would tie up the decision.
"Essentially it gives the species a chance to stabilize, and for the agencies to monitor and collect accurate data on the particular species."
Lane said that ranchers across the west have been negatively impacted by the ESA in a number of ways. One big problem has been the continued litigation by extreme environmental groups that prevents species from being successfully delisted, even when the science shows that it has recovered. "Let's say you are a rancher in gray wolf country and your herds are being predated by an aggressive pack of wolves. Because you are in an area where wolves are protected you can't take action to protect your cattle. Even though the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has found that there are enough wolves to justify them being removed from the ESA list, when they were delisted in 2012, they were immediately taken to court, and the ruling was overturned on a technicality, and the delisting never took effect."
Siddoway, in fact, knows about these impacts first hand. "The death loss after the reintroduction of wolves, it's a huge financial burden for ranchers to bear year in and year out. With the grizzly bear, we've had to abandon many permits because the grizzlies were given priority," she said. The family operation lost 176 head of sheep to wolves in one night in 2013.