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ESA reform makes headway on Capitol Hill

In addition to modernizing the Endangered Species Act, momentum is picking up in Washington, D.C., to reform the Antiquities Act and amend sage grouse management plans.
Carol Ryan Dumas

Capital Press

Published on November 20, 2017 12:06PM

Ethan Lane, right, executive director of the Public Lands Council, talks with PLC president Dave Eliason during the Idaho Cattle Association annual convention in Sun Valley on Nov. 14.

Carol Ryan Dumas/Capital Press

Ethan Lane, right, executive director of the Public Lands Council, talks with PLC president Dave Eliason during the Idaho Cattle Association annual convention in Sun Valley on Nov. 14.

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SUN VALLEY, Idaho — The pro-property rights Public Lands Council is seeing progress on Capitol Hill when it comes to issues impacting public lands grazing. That includes reform of the Endangered Species Act — a top priority for ranchers.

Reform of the ESA and the National Environmental Policy Act will help ranchers on about 90 percent of the issues they deal with in the West, and headway is being made, said Ethan Lane, executive director of the Public Lands Council and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association federal lands.

For the public, ESA is an iconic law, one of the most popular laws ever. It saved the bald eagle, he told ranchers at the Idaho Cattle Association annual convention.

But the act is broken. It’s become a cottage industry for environmental groups and used as a weapon against industries. It has resulted in the listing of more than 2,000 species with another 500 waiting in the wings, he said.

Reform is needed to “make it work like people think it does (and) the solution has to come from the West,” he said.

That reform needs to make it easier to get species off the list and harder to put species on. It needs to be something that works better for individuals and the agencies that are inundated with litigation, he said.

Efforts to do that are more likely to succeed than they’ve been in a long time, he said.

PLC and NCBA have been involved with the Western Governors Association in its initiative to involve states and stakeholders to improve the ESA, feeling that was the best venue to come up with guidance for Congress to modernize the act, he said.

They are also working closely with Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., on the association’s recommendations and expects a comprehensive reform bill to come out of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works soon, he said.

“The environmental community is never going to be able to support it, but their fingerprints are all over it,” he said.

Lane later told Capital Press the various conservation and environmental groups that participated throughout the governors’ process contributed as much to the process as PLC, the counties or the states.

“It would be completely disingenuous of them to now criticize a bill that reflects those compromises, but I worry that their respective memberships will balk at any attempt to modernize the act,” he said.

That would be a shame, because the message it will send to the agricultural community is “don’t come to the table, there is no middle ground,” he said.

The Barrasso-led bill would address a “cooling off” period before environmentalists can jump back in with more legal motions. It would include getting recovered species off the list and keeping them off, he said.

There is also progress in the sage grouse arena, with the Bureau of Land Management holding scoping sessions and taking public comment on amendments to sage grouse resource-management plans. PLC is heavily engaged in the discussion and urges ranchers to weigh in, anticipating an onslaught of comments from the environmental community, he said.

Reforming the Antiquities Act, which allows presidents to designate national monuments, is also gaining momentum, with a bill in the House to rein it in, he said.

There is opportunity with this Congress to get some things done, but it will take educating Democratic lawmakers in heavily populated urban districts. To that end, PLC is sending a daily newsletter on the issues to 800 staffers on Capitol Hill, as well as agency officials, to try to guide the conversation, he said.


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