WASHINGTON, D.C. — The House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing to discuss Rep. Chris Stewart’s Endangered Species Improvement Act of 2014 on Sept. 9. This bill would amend the Endangered Species Act of 1973, to require that the federal government count all species dwelling on both public and private lands, when determining the recovery of a species.
The intent of the Endangered Species Act is to protect species from extinction — an absolutely noble and needed cause. Unfortunately, not all laws are perfect, and in this case, the interpretation of the law is resulting in inaccurate data collection, potentially preventing healthy and growing species from being removed from the threatened or endangered list. Specifically in southern Utah, local communities have been asking for Congressional help with the Endangered Species Act for over 40 years in dealing with the Utah prairie dog. I am pleased to be able to help through this legislation.
The Utah prairie dog has been a listed species under the Endangered Species Act since 1973. In the species recovery plan for the Utah prairie dog, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service counts only prairie dogs living on federal or other protected land to determine whether or not the species is recovering and could be delisted. They do not count the thousands of prairie dogs found on state, local and private lands. These uncounted prairie dogs could account for up to 70 percent of the species population.
“Many wonder whether the species could be delisted if dogs dwelling on private lands were included in official counts used to determine whether the species is on the path to recovery,” Stewart said. “Moreover, I am concerned that only counting part of a population of any species to determine species recovery could hugely expand the reach of the ESA.”
The hearing is the latest effort led by the Stewart office to help gain increased local control over species recovery efforts, which have included productive meetings between U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials, local governmental officials, and officials from the Utah Department of Natural Resources.
“This bill is a common-sense reform that simply asks for accurate population counts when assessing the status of threatened or endangered species,” Stewart said. “I have had conversations with Interior Secretary Sally Jewel and the Fish and Wildlife Service who have been helpful. I’m hopeful that this is the latest step in providing more access to lands and better communication between local and federal governments.”
During the hearing, Iron County Commissioner Dave Miller also testified on Utah’s behalf about the need to improve the Endangered Species Act.
The proposed improvements suggested by Congressman Stewart to the Endangered Species Act are not only crucial but legitimate adjustments to an Act that has been in existence long enough to identify the shortcomings and instigate much needed improvements. This bill, known as HR 4256, simply illustrates a way to improve a severe inconsistency in the way the living populations of species are counted. Currently internal rules exclude counting populations toward recovery objectives because they may be found on State, tribal or private property. Suffice it to say those private property owners who are restricted, impacted and often is the case found damaged as a result of the poor processes and coordination efforts are less than enchanted with the so called protections of life, liberty and property or lack thereof.
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