EnvironmentHot SheetTrump

Interior opines on Endangered Species Act, as protesters await Zinke in Steamboat

Author: Joey Bunch - August 10, 2018 - Updated: August 10, 2018

ZinkeIn this July 30, 2017, file photo, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke speaks during a news conference near Gold Butte National Monument in Bunkerville, Nev. (Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun via AP)

On Thursday, Coloradan David Bernhardt, the deputy director of the Department of Interior, was making a case for the Trump administration’s changes to the Endangered Species Act in a Washington Post op-ed.

Meanwhile, protesters in Colorado were making plans to protest his boss, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, as he speaks at a private event in Steamboat Springs Friday night.

Bernhardt, who grew up in Rifle, wrote about a “modern vision of conservation” in The Post on Thursday. He defended the administration’s views on protections for at-risk wildlife, which sometimes can get in the way of business and conservation.

“(A)utomatically treating the threatened species as endangered places unnecessary regulatory burden on our citizens without additional benefit to the species,” wrote Bernhardt. “The blanket rule reflexively prohibits known habitat management practices, such as selective forest thinning and water management, that might ultimately benefit a threatened species.

“We need creative, incentive-based conservation, but that becomes impossible with the current blurring of the lines between the two distinctions. This muddle discourages collaborative conservation from the parties we most need to partner with us — states, tribes and private landowners — ultimately harming species that can thrive with a more tailored approach.”

You can read the full column by clicking here.

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The changes announced last month include, for the first time, factoring in the economic impact of a designation under the 45-year-old law. And species considered threatened would not automatically receive the same protections as endangered species.

Western environmentalist reacted as expected last month when members of the U.S. House Western Caucus introduced nine bills the Sierra Club alleged would “effectively dismantle the Endangered Species Ac,” calling GOP proposals an “extinction package.”

“Anti-public lands and anti-wildlife Republicans in Congress cannot stop with their dangerous agenda to get rid of one of the most effective environmental laws in American history, the Endangered Species Act,” said Jordan Giaconia, the Sierra Club’s federal policy associate. “But what’s concerning now is that the introduction of these bills could be one of the most destructive we’ve ever seen. This ‘extinction package’ would remove science from wildlife management policies, essentially nix citizen input and launch several other attacks that would destroy the ESA’s effectiveness.

“We know the Endangered Species Act already allows for flexibility in protecting endangered wildlife. The law requires federal agencies to work together with state, tribal and local officials to prevent extinction. We do not need to change or undo a law that clearly works. Instead, Congress should improve the law’s implementation by fully funding recovery efforts for endangered species, not throw out essential protections for the most threatened animals in the country.”

Public lands, not the Endangered Species Act, is the focus of protests Friday evening in Steamboat Springs.

Zinke is expected to address at a private event Friday evening at the conservative Steamboat Institute’s Freedom Caucus.

They’re unhappy with the administration’s decision to reduce the size of two national monuments in Utah, which critics say will endanger wilderness, sacred American Indian lands and other cultural resources.

Zinke brushed aside those concerns on a hike with Colorado Politics last Sunday.

“The president had me look at 27 monuments,” Zinke said has he embarked from the Glacier Gorge trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park. “The recommendation I made? There are 150 monuments. The recommendation was to modify four of them, increase public access, grazing, hunting and fishing on a handful.”

He turned to the reductions to Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.

“The revised boundaries were still larger than Zion and Bryce Canyon (national parks) combined,” Zinke said.

The left-leaning Western Values Project, which has opposed Zinke’s policies consistently, said he’s rather court conservative leaders with direct ties to industry than listen to environmentalists.

“Why is Secretary Zinke making the time to meet with and pander to this group of ideologically slanted special interests, when his department refuses to listen to the overwhelming majority of the American public on national monuments, access to public lands, wildlife and a host of other issues?” stated Western Values Project Deputy Director Jayson O’Neill.

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.