Rural Utah lauds proposed reforms to Endangered Species Act

By Amy Joi O'Donoghue, Deseret News

Published: Wed, July 30, 2014, 5:20 p.m. MDT

 FILE - This April 2014 photo provided by Colorado Parks and Wildlife shows a Gunnison sage grouse with tail feathers fanned near Gunnison, Colo. A congressional measure passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday to institute reforms to the Endangered Species Act, including requiring disclosure of the science that is driving a proposed listing. Rural Utah leaders support the bill.

FILE - This April 2014 photo provided by Colorado Parks and Wildlife shows a Gunnison sage grouse with tail feathers fanned near Gunnison, Colo. A congressional measure passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday to institute reforms to the Endangered Species Act, including requiring disclosure of the science that is driving a proposed listing. Rural Utah leaders support the bill.

(Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Dave Showalter, Associated Press)

SALT LAKE CITY — Iron County Commissioner David Miller says the subjugation of his county by a 3-pound rodent deemed imperiled by the federal government has been a demeaning, frustrating experience.

"To say it has been a nightmare is an understatement," Miller said Tuesday, detailing golf courses and airports that have been destroyed by Utah prairie dogs, with the county left largely with little or no recourse.

So Miller said it should be no surprise that his county lands squarely in favor of a measure co-sponsored by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, that would institute reforms to the Endangered Species Act that requires detailing taxpayer dollars spent on related litigation.

"Anytime the American people know what the government is doing with their money, regardless of the perceived value, is a good thing. It is very important to keep trust and accountability," Miller said.

The 21st Century Endangered Species Transparency Act, HR4315, passed the House on Tuesday and awaits action in the Senate.

Bishop, a former Box Elder County schoolteacher, said the legislation is needed to correct what he says is the "flunking" performance of an act abused by environmental groups.

“The Endangered Species Act isn’t working. The ultimate goal is to ensure that threatened and endangered species are successfully recovered and that long-term management plans are put into place," he said. "This legislation puts us on a path to do that. Without updates we will maintain the status quo, which has had a success rate of just 2 percent. In every classroom in America, that counts as a failing grade. We have to do better."

The congressional measure represents another effort by mostly Western states to dull what they say is the sharp overreach of the Endangered Species Act.

A bill by Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., seeks a 10-year delay of any listing action taken by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the greater sage grouse, allowing Congress to trump any agency decision if a state has a management plan in place and seeks congressional approval.

Such a listing for Utah and 10 other states is widely seen as a move that would deliver a crippling blow to a wide slate of industrial and agricultural activity — including oil and gas development, ranching, even transmission lines for renewable energy.

Utah, hoping to ward off a listing, ponied up $2 million in the most recent legislative session for a Washington, D.C., contract to put pressure on the U.S. Department of Interior and for other lobbying efforts.

The contract has been the target of criticism among pro sage grouse groups and others who question the process. On Thursday, members of a Utah legislative appropriations subcommittee are scheduled to discuss the issue.

Wildlife advocates say Bishop's measure is part of an ongoing assault by House leadership to weaken protections for imperiled wildlife.

"To vote for this bill is to vote to destroy our nation’s commitment to conserve our imperiled natural heritage for generations to come. Contrary to the claims of the bill’s sponsors, this bill does nothing to speed recovery of our nation’s most imperiled species," said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and chief executive officer of Defenders of Wildlife.

But Bishop said key among the improvements the bill would bring is the requirement that the federal government publicly disclose the data it is using to propose listing a species.

Mark Ward, senior policy analyst with the Utah Association of Counties, said disclosure of the science behind the process would solve a long-standing complaint around endangered species protections.

"It has been a problem for years. The counties have long suspected the science is drummed up by so-called scientists who work for organizations that want a listing," Ward said. "These battles over listings always boil down to the science. Anything that would make that process more transparent is a good step."

Bruce Adams, a commissioner in San Juan County, said he also supports any effort that would make the process more accountable.

San Juan County is among an 11-county coalition that has sought to delay a listing of the Gunnison sage grouse pending a federal review of what county-by-county action has been taken to save the bird.

"There are 11 counties in the region that have the Gunnison sage grouse, and 10 of those are in Colorado," he said. "We have a very small, satellite population."

Adams said he suspects a driving reason for the bird's historic decline has been the endangered species protections extended to animals that routinely feed on the eggs, such as ravens and the American eagle.

"So many of the predators are protected, so to me, the Gunnison won't survive even if they are listed," he said. "It is really frustrating."

Email: amyjoi@deseretnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16

1. Oatmeal
Woods Cross, UT,
July 31, 2014

Rep. Bishop and most state legislators never saw a prairie dog they didn't want to shoot. And with Congressman Bishop's efforts, we no longer have to wonder why so many environmentalists and national legislators want to create more national monuments/parks in Utah. Get as much of what is left of Utah's nature and environment as far away from Utah's governing officials and federal reps as possible or there will be nothing in Utah's environment worth saving.

2. deserthound
Salt Lake City, UT,
July 31, 2014

Miller, Bishop, Ward, etc: Cut the facade. If you can't shoot it, drill it, mine it, cut it or burn it, then it's worthless. This bill should be named, "Let the pursuit of money rule ACT."

3. TruthfullySeeking
Salt Lake City, UT,
July 31, 2014

The Endangered Species act has a 2% success rate - wow! Yep, it's time to find out exactly why - and the "science" behind the listings could only be the tip of the iceberg.

4. Kralon
July 31, 2014

Like most legislation in the U. S. the "Endangered Species Act" was not well thought out and needs some balance and common sense adjustment. Too often, in America, we go too far in one direction and then, when correcting that, we go too far in the other direction!

5. Fitz
Murray, UT,
July 31, 2014

Back when the HCP was being developed in Washington County, I asked both USFWS and DWR biologists how many mating pairs would be necessary to sustain the desert tortoise and keep it from becoming extinct. I also asked how many desert tortoises there were in Washington County and in the great range area that included Clark County, NV. The answer to both questions was the same, the didn't know how many mating pairs were needed to sustain the population and they had no idea how many tortoises there were. Yet they pushed ahead and labeled the tortoise as endangered or threatened. There was no science in the ESA declaration. Science in the ESA is indeed missing.

Even when USFWS declares a species recovered and delists a species, the emotions and undue fears of extreme environmental groups sue in federal court to have these species re-listed. ESA is not about science, it is solely a tool used by extreme environmentalists to stop man from his continued progress in life. ESA was well intentioned, but 42 years later, it is totally broken. They need to start over with the ESA laws, with science being the lead.