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Western guvs’ tilt on Endangered Species Act gets thumbs-up from landowners

Author: Dan Njegomir - June 29, 2017 - Updated: June 29, 2017

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Male sage-grouse perform mating rituals near Walden. Intense debate and negotiations two years ago — followed by land-use restrictions now being reconsidered by the Trump administration — headed off the bird’s listing under the Endangered Species Act. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

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 Njegomir

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir is the opinion editor for Colorado Politics. A longtime journalist and more-than-25-year veteran of the Colorado political scene, Njegomir has been an award-winning newspaper reporter, an editorial page editor, a senior legislative staffer at the State Capitol and a political consultant.


One comment

  • Sharon Friedman

    June 29, 2017 at 4:52 pm

    I’d be more interested in what the details of the resolution rather than the predictable “ESA is completely perfect in the statute, regs and court decisions and any change however small will lead to the extinction of species.” I’ve had real-world experiences working with ESA and like any other human endeavor, it can be improved. Why quote someone in NY about what’s happening in the west?

    Also the Western Govs are the elected western govs.I don’t think you have to count the R’s and the D’s to report this. It feels like you may be trying to fit this story into the “bad R” narrative. But there are other narratives. One might be that western govs are more sensitized to certain issues because their agencies have to deal with them and they sit in meetings with people on these topics as a matter of course, from which they learn that the details are complex.

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