Congress should address meaningful reform of the ESA – May 2011

By now, everyone will have heard about the Congressional action to remove wolves from the protection of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in some states, but not in others, namely Wyoming.  The environmentalists cried foul because Congress, they claimed, was bypassing science.  However, anyone who has had more than a passing interest knows that the ESA has not been based on science any more than the U.S. budget is based on sound economics.

What Congress did was try, in one small instance, to fix a badly flawed piece of legislation.  Unfortunately, they decided to side step the bigger issue of a flawed law in favor of fixing a small part.  This is in hopes the pesky landowners and sportsman out there will go away and not continue to point out the flaws.  This tactic has worked before and only time will tell if it will work again.  I suspect it will.  It still doesn’t change the fact that Congress has a difficult time addressing problems even though they know what the solution should be.

Wyoming was left out of the Congressional action and I’ve heard speculation as to why.  Sitting this far from the U.S. Capitol, it’s hard to see with any clarity if there was a single reason or a multitude of reasons.  But we are lucky in Wyoming to have a decision from a District Judge which upheld Wyoming’s plan and the science behind that plan.  We were told that the numbers of wolves Wyoming’s law supports were correct as well as the concept of protecting wolves in 90% of their habitat while allowing Wyomingites to protect their property in the other parts of the state unsuitable for wolves.  Those are important decisions.  It was also important that the judge recognized the fundamental inequity in requiring Wyoming to manage for wolves in Yellowstone and Grand Teton Parks even though the federal government excludes Wyoming from doing so.

The Fish and Wildlife Service could begin the process of removal of wolves in Wyoming from the ESA under Wyoming’s plan tomorrow.  They have already had the necessary judicial review of most of the Wyoming plan.  They could move to avoid any more protracted legal challenges by the factory fund raisers in the environmental community by crafting language already decided upon by the Court.

Wyoming must also be careful that we do not, in our hope to reach another mirage of a settlement, move beyond the Court’s decision.   We know the environmental community will seize on any excuse to challenge what they don’t want in court so we should not give them any ammunition.

Of course, Congress could and should fix it as well by approving Wyoming’s wolf management plan and stopping the endless lawsuits.  I suspect they will have to do so in other parts of the United States where wolves have far surpassed their recovery numbers, but are still listed because of lawsuits and poorly written law.  The folks in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan deserve the same treatment as  Montana and Idaho.

And maybe, just maybe, Congress will adopt some meaningful reforms to the Act itself, so they don’t have to continually come back and fix it on a species by species basis.  Yeah, I know, I lost my head there and let my imagination carry me away.

By Ken Hamilton, WyFB Executive Vice President

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