Mead to Focus on
by Laura Hancock
GRAY REEF ACCESS AREA -- Gov. Matt Mead announced Wednesday morning he wants to work with top state executives to reform the Endangered Species Act.
"It is not working," he said. "In addition to trouble-creating issues for municipalities, for businesses, for industry, it also creates other issues for species because if we're wasting time keeping species listed that have recovered, we're ignoring species that may need help."
Mead recently became leader of the 19-member Western Governors' Association, and plans to make Endangered Species Act reform a priority during his one-year term.
Currently, there are 1,568 species that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have listed as threatened or endangered in the United States and another 653 around the world, Mead said. Since the Endangered Species Act was enacted in 1973, 2,280 species have been under protection. Of those, 30 species were recovered and removed and 19 were delisted due to an error in original data that showed those species did not warrant protection, he said.
Mead said he chose the area of the North Platte River southwest of Casper to announce his initiative as chairman because it is important habitat to fish, eagles and deer. The area's also popular among anglers.
"Nobody is saying we don't worry about endangered species," he said.
Mead doesn't know what the group's recommendation for changes will ultimately look like, he said. Those impacted by the Endangered Species Act will discuss the act and the governors will consider changes. Governors come from states as diverse as Utah and Oregon and are all shades politically, he said.
"This is the WGA," he said about the association. "It has Republicans and Democrats. ... It is a bipartisan organization, and what we do is work through issues."
Mead described frustration with a federal judge's 2014 decision that reinstated protections for wolves. The judge, in her opinion, said wolves in the Northern Rockies had recovered, although the state's protection plan was not sufficient. The grizzly bear population has more than recovered, he added.
"Wyoming, I think I will say of any state, has in its citizens a great appreciation of wildlife and the variety of wildlife," he said. "We love being able to see bald eagles and golden eagles. We love the fact that 11,000 ranches and farms in this state have done so much to preserve so many species and in fact make so many species thrive."
There will be five forums across the West in which people representing conservation groups, agriculture, the energy industry and other interests will meet and discuss a set of questions posed by Mead. Those questions include how the Endangered Species Act works, how it doesn't work, what are examples of success on the ground and how states manage species to keep them off the endangered or threatened lists, said Holly Propst, policy director for the Western Governors' Association.
There will also be webinars to fill in gaps from the five forums.
The governors will have access to the information from the forums and webinars. The Western Governors' Association will write a report. From the report, the governors will discuss policy solutions. They will vote on a resolution with policy solutions in June at a meeting in Jackson, Propst said.
The first forum will be in Wyoming in November. The exact location will be announced at a later date, she said.
Mead was elected chairman of the Western Governors' Association. He began July 1. All chairmen all have initiatives. For instance, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval made drought a priority last year, said Joe Rassenfoss, communications director of the Denver-based association.
"Gov. Mead is in the unique position to change the narrative on this issue," said James Ogsbury, the executive director of the Western Governors' Association.
The Western Governors' Association can have an impact on the national level, said Propst. For instance, last spring when the U.S. Forest Service unveiled a directive to regulate ground water, the Western Governors' Association opposed it and the Forest Service pulled back the directive.
"The governors pushing back on that was a potent political statement," she said.
Chris Merrill, associate director of the Wyoming Outdoor Council, disagreed with Mead about the Endangered Species Act's success. Merrill said it is working.
Merrill said whooping cranes, peregrine falcons and bald eagles are among the wildlife that has been protected, thanks to the act. For example, bald eagles neared extinction in the 1960s but in the early 2000s, there were almost 10,000 breeding pairs.
"As for the Western Governors' Association recommendations, one would hope that they will ultimately be based on science. That would make sense. It's always useful to try to improve legislation. In this case, if the western governors with the help of stakeholders can figure out better ways to protect threatened species, that would be a great thing. But the goal of any improvement should be to stop species from going extinct -- not simply to get them off the list."
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