Mead testifies in Congress on Endangered Species Act
Washington, D.C. – On July 17, Wyoming’s Gov. Matt Meat (R) joined U.S. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and members of the Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) to testify on draft legislation, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) Amendments of 2018.
Barrasso drafted the legislation, which would reauthorize the ESA for the first time since 1993. The bill elevates the role of states and increases transparency on implementation of the Act, while also prioritizing resources to meet conservation goals and promotes conservation and recovery.
The bill is based on bipartisan efforts from the Western Governors’ Association, an effort which included National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), the Public Lands Council (PLC), state wildlife agencies, conservation groups including Audubon Society and The Nature Conservancy, Environmental Defense Fund, energy companies and sportsman’s groups.
“This effort really represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to update and modernize ESA for the first time since it was passed 45 years ago,” said NCBA’s Ed Frank.
Mead spearheaded the WGA effort.
Mead began by touting some of the success of ESA, including the reintroduction of black-footed ferrets across eight states when the species was thought to be extinct.
Further, he cited the protection of grizzly bears, a species that has grown from 136 bears in 1975 to conservative estimates of more than 700 bears on delisting in 2017.
“These success stories are a testament to the ESA’s ability to prevent extinction,” Mead said.
However, Mead said ESA is far from perfect, citing five lawsuits and 15 years that were required to delist gray wolves and a second round of litigation on grizzly bears.
“Nearly 30 percent of all listed species have no recovery plan, and litigation dictates U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) priorities and workload,” he says.
Since ESA has not been amended substantively since 1988, Mead said the time to discuss amendments is now.
While he has supported legislation through Congress that protects species from being listed or delists them, Mead also commented, “I have to frankly say that the process of Congress, by popular vote, of making the decisions on individual species is not the best way to go.”
“Addressing root problems would obviate the need for Congress to intervene with respect to individual species. That would be better legislation, better policy and better for wildlife,” he said.
Mead noted that a real, bipartisan solution to correct the ESA would provide for cooperation and collaboration and would yield better results than “bitter partisanship and harsh rhetoric.”
Inside the bill
During his testimony, Mead also highlighted several pieces of the bill that would be particularly helpful to improving the bill and increasing its efficacy.
As an example of a breakdown of the bill, Mead explained that timelines within the bill, coupled by the number of species proposed for listing, provides and encourages endless litigation.
The draft bill helps to address this challenge through a National Listing Work Plan at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to prioritize findings and ensure decisions are made within seven years.
“The discussion draft also enhances the role of states,” Mead continued. “It contemplates states leading recovery teams, developing and implementing recovery plans, consulting with federal agencies in a meaningful way on all aspects of ESA implementation and providing helpful species data to the FWS.”
“We have an opportunity to improve ESA for wildlife and people,” Mead added. “We can encourage innovative conservation practices and facilitate faster and more cost-effective species recovery.”
After the hearing
Following the hearing, Mead told PLC’s Ethan Lane, “I’m really encouraged EPW is taking this up. It is a difficult issue – there’s no question about it, and people get very passionate about it, but this is an issue that governors struggle with.”
The process of protecting species provides challenges because there is seemingly no end result from spending local, state and federal funds to protect species.
“I’m really hoping this committee can take the bill to the next step because, in 40-plus years, we’ve learned a lot,” Mead continued. “In 40-plus years, we’ve had some success, and we’ve had some failures.”
Mead cited the gray wolf, which has been in court for 20 years and has far exceeded recovery goals as one example of a failure.
“For some, I think we can’t get it delisted because some don’t like the idea of state management,” he explained. “I think what we’re seeing in the draft legislation is states will have a greater role, which I think is absolutely for states and the species. I think we can do a better job.”
Further, Mead said he hopes his message resonated with a bipartisan audience, and he’s optimistic for the bill’s future.
Saige Albert, managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.