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Policy, Regulatory Changes Needed to Administer ESA

by Patricia R. McCoy, Idaho Staff Writer
Capital Press, August 20, 2004

BOISE -- The political climate may not make amending the Endangered Species Act possible right now, but agencies administering it can make regulatory and management changes that would make it easier to live with.

That message came through loud and clear here Aug. 17 during the second annual Rangeland Summit sponsored by Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and the Idaho Rangeland Committee.

The opening session ended with an IRC report, during which rancher Ted Hoffman, Mountain Home, outlined several issues, while Jim Caswell, head of the Idaho Office of Species Conservation, responded with proposed solutions in a point-counterpoint presentation.

Caswell likened efforts to change how the ESA and how it is managed to a quote from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, “A tale told by an idiot,” and with another from popular counselor Dr. Laura, “You can’t do that because ....”

For instance, when announcement is made of a new candidate species, agency workers describe the species as threatened, but those threats are often poorly defined or prioritized, Hoffman said.

The IRC recommends adding a structured decision-making process to the 12-month status review, and prioritizing threats based on the severity of their impact to the species, Caswell said.

Name Lead Agency

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service both manage inland fish habitat. That results in dual and occasionally different consultation about the same habitat, Hoffman said.

“One example is the requirement to install fish screens in the Salmon area,” he said. “The kinds of screens required by NOAA Fisheries are too expensive to install, and too technical for ranchers to afford or maintain, and far more elaborate than what is being required by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. Yet guess who’s responsible if a screen fails to work properly, resulting in the taking of a salmon or steelhead in an irrigation ditch?

“It’s the rancher. Permittees and action agencies would prefer to deal with a single lead agency in a single area,” Hoffman said.

Caswell called on the heads of FWS and NOAA Fisheries to work together to resolve overlapping authorities, and to designate a lead agency.

The first day of the summit was set aside for reports from the IRC and others, including Wayne Burkhardt, a private rangeland consultant under contract to the Bureau of Land Management.

Burkhardt has been working recently on renewing more than 60 grazing permits in Idaho’s Owyhee County. Those renewals have been embroiled in controversy for some time, he said.

Permit Renewal Issues

“I was called in by BLM to find a way to overcome all the controversy,” Burkhardt said. “Out of all the mix of issues, two or three came prominently to the forefront as complicating that renewal process. The first stems from processes under the National Environmental Protection Act, and the need to do environmental assessments.”

Permit renewals are a continuing action, and should not be subject to such a level of NEPA scrutiny. Environmental assessments need to be done before management changes, such as new resource management plans, Burkhardt said.

The second issue is the role of outside interests, most of them non-grazers, in each given permit renewal. In some cases, those parties have nearly an equal standing as a permittee. For permit renewals, there should be a difference between their standing and that of an operator interested in working out what is essentially a business agreement with a landowner, in this case the federal government, he said.

“In effect, giving interested publics such standing opens the door for malicious harassment and gridlock. This is a policy matter that has bogged the agencies down nationwide, not just in Owyhee County,” the consultant said.

Because of this situation, assessing rangeland health on allotments has become very bogged down in paperwork and the bureaucratic process. Permittees who should be the most directly involved are instead often alienated from the process, leading to great frustration, he said.

“It is appropriate to assess the health of an allotment at the time of permit renewal, but it should be done during a joint meeting between a permittee, a range conservationist and a biologist in one or two days. During that time, they can fill out the forms, identify bigger resource issues, and discuss how to resolve them. Right now there’s no opportunity for a permittee to discuss what the issues are, how to address them, or what his management options may be. The solution to this is within the agency protocol itself,” he said.

Those listening to reports at the session included Terry Gibson, chairman of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribe; William Hogarth, head of NOAA Fisheries; and Steve Williams, chief of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The U.S. Department of Agriculture was also represented.

Patricia R. McCoy is based in Boise.
Policy, Regulatory Changes Needed to Administer ESA
Capital Press, August 20, 2004

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