Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJune 29, 20174min309

On the same day they heard Trump administration Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke bemoan a “breach of trust” between the public and the federal government in the West, the region’s governors called for changes in a federal law they say bears some of the blame for that breach.

The Western Governors Association adopted a resolution at their annual meeting in Whitefish, Montana, Tuesday endorsing the much-debated Endangered Species Act — but seeking tweaks that would provide checks and balances. Notably, they want Congress to expand states’ role in applying the act, and to clarify goals for recovery of species protected under the act.

That drew backup applause today from a Santa Fe, New Mexico-based stakeholders’ group that has a substantial Colorado following and had a hand in shaping the initiative, the Western Landowners Alliance. It released a statement by Executive Director Lesli Allison that read in part:

“We commend WGA for the thoughtful and bipartisan process they undertook to explore ways to improve wildlife conservation and the Endangered Species Act. In particular, we are appreciative of the recognition of the important roles landowners play in wildlife conservation and the need to support their voluntary stewardship efforts. We believe a collaborative approach to habitat conservation is the best way to keep additional species from reaching a state of threatened or endangered. … We agree with the Western Governors that the principles and intent of the ESA are sound and we believe improvements to its implementation could benefit both species and working lands.”

The Alliance, established in 2011, says its mission is, “…to advance policies and practices that sustain working lands, connected landscapes and native species.”

The predominantly Republican, 22-state governors association also includes Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and five other Democrats. The vote count on the resolution wasn’t made public, according to the Associated Press; presumably, at least some of the Democrats dissented.

As expected, environmental groups took a dim view of the governors’ resolution.  The New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council, for example, weighed in with a blog post headlined, “Western Governors Ass’n Seeks to Undo Endangered Species Act.” Here’s the organization’s blogger Elly Pepper:

At the Western Governors Association’s biannual meeting in Whitefish, Montana today, the governors passed a resolution that would undermine the Endangered Species Act—one of our nation’s most important laws.

The governors claim they “applaud the principles and intent” of the Act and simply want to “improve” it. But they – and we – know that amending the law in the current political climate would incur significant harm on imperiled species and, likely, lead many to disappear forever.


Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJune 21, 20173min395

So, maybe all us Coloradans at last can stop our worrying, OK?

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner’s office even provided a video clip of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke confirming for Gardner in a committee hearing Tuesday what Gov. John Hickenlooper had concluded earlier this year: that Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in Southwest Colorado isn’t going to lose its designation.

President Trump directed the Interior Department in late April to begin reviewing designations of national monuments created since 1996 that are greater than 100,000 acres. Trump has challenged what he maintains was an “egregious abuse of power” by the Obama administration in designating some of the monuments. Ancients, however, was designated by the Clinton administration in 2000.

Western Republicans like Colorado’s junior U.S. senator from Yuma seem to have been saddled with the responsibility for assuring the public that our treasured natural wonders aren’t in peril in the era of Donald Trump. After all, he is their party’s standard bearer, and his push to revisit a host of environmental and public lands policies of the Obama administration — while generally cheered on by the GOP — has left some Republicans like Gardner in a ticklish position. They have to walk the line between their broad support for the administration’s initiatives and their need to stand up for the likes of parks and monuments, treasured by Coloradans of every political stripe.

A press release from Gardner’s office Tuesday makes that clear:

Gardner has been a strong advocate for protecting Colorado’s public lands, and recently received the Outdoor Industry Association’s 2017 Friend of the Outdoor Industry Award. In May, Gardner and Congressman Scott Tipton (CO-3) sent a letter to Secretary Zinke requesting “any review of Canyons should conclude that no changes to the designation are necessary.”

Democrats have very publicly wrung their hands over the administration’s policy pronouncements on public lands and other environmental issues, knowing it’s ultimately up to the Republicans to dispel fears. Of course, the Dems have been eating it up. (“Hey, don’t blame us. He’s your president!”)