Statement of Senator Craig Thomas
Committee on Environment and Public Works
Hearing on Listing and Delisting Processes of the Endangered Species Act
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding today's hearing on this important topic. In Wyoming, we have seen first hand the need to revise the listing and delisting processes of the Endangered Species Act. Listing should be a purely scientific decision. Listing should be based on credible data that has been peer-reviewed. Unfortunately, none of this is true regarding the current administration of the ESA. To date, 1,243 species have been listed in the U.S. under the Endangered Species Act. 20-25 have been delisted. Clearly, the system is broken.
Not long ago, the Prebles Meadow Jumping Mouse was listed in the State of Wyoming, yet the listing process for this mouse demonstrates how the system has gone haywire devoid of good science. One of the more significant shortcomings of the Preble=s Rule relates to confusion about claims regarding the Aknown range@ as opposed to the alleged Ahistorical range@ of the mouse. Historical data and current knowledge do not support the high, short-grass, semi-arid plains of southeastern Wyoming as part of the mouse=s historical habitat range. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has even admitted to uncertainties regarding taxonomic distinctions and ranges. Further, the state was not properly notified causing counties, commissioners, and landowners all to be caught off guard. Such poor practices do not foster the types of partnerships that are required if meaningful species conservation is to occur. Clearly, changes are desperately needed to the Endangered Species Act.
Not far behind the mouse in Wyoming, was the black tailed prairie dog. Petitions to list the prairie dog were filed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. I=ve lived in Wyoming most of my life, and I=ve logged a lot of miles on the roads and highways in my state over the years. I can tell you from experience, there is no shortage of prairie dogs in Wyoming. Any farmer or rancher will concur with that opinion. This petition, and countless other actions throughout the country, make it painfully clear that some folks are intent on completely eliminating activity on public lands, no matter what the cost to individuals or local communities that rely on the land for economic survival.
I believe we should take action to require the Secretary of the Interior to use scientific or commercial data that is empirical, field tested and peer-reviewed. Right now, it=s a Apostage stamp@ petition: any person who wants to start a listing process may petition a species with little or no scientific support. I have introduced legislation, S. 347 to prevent this absurd practice by establishing minimum requirements for a listing petition that includes an analyses of the status of the species, its range, population trends and threats. The petition must also be peer reviewed. In order to list a species, the Secretary needs to determine if sufficient biological information exists in the petition to support a recovery plan. Under my proposal, states are made active participants in the process and the general public is provided a more substantial role.
Unfortunately, I have found that with several listings in the state of Wyoming, the Department of the Interior was unable to tell me what measures were required to achieve species recovery. The Agency could not tell me what acts or omissions we could expect to face as a consequence of listing. This is troubling since the agency is supposed to be fully apprized of the status of the species. Conversely, if the Agency cannot clearly describe how to reverse threatening acts to a species so that we can achieve recovery, how can we be sure that the species is, in fact, threatened?
This ambiguity has caused much undue frustration to the people of Wyoming. If the Secretary believes that certain farming or ranching practices, or the diversion of a certain amount of water, or a private citizen's development of one's own property, is the cause for a listing, then the Secretary should identify those activities that have to be curtailed or changed. If the Secretary does not have enough information to indicate what activities should be restricted, then why list a species? Why open producers and others to the burden of over‑zealous enforcement and even litigation without being able to achieve the goal of recovering the species?
Mr. Chairman, we must ultimately seek to design a system to support and improve the quality of information used to support a listing. If the Secretary knows enough to list a species, we should also know enough about what will be required for recovery. That should be the case under current law, unfortunelty it is not the case today.
Just as the beginning of the process needs changes, we need to revise the end of the processBthe de-listing procedure. Recovery and delisting are quite simply, the goals of the Endangered Species Act. Yet, currently, it is virtually impossible to de-list a species. There is no certainty in the process and the statesBthe folks who have all the responsibility for managing the species once it is off the list Bare not true partners in that process. Once the recovery plan is met, the species should be de-listed.
Wyoming=s experience with the Grizzly Bear pinpoints some of the problems with the current de-listing process. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee set criteria for recovery and in the Yellowstone ecosystem, those targets have been met, but the bear has still not been removed from the list. We=ve been battling the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for years over this one to no avail, despite tremendous effort and financial resources to meet recovery objectives. Even with rebounded populations, we keep funneling money down a black hole.
Mr. Chairman, it is clear that something needs to be done. My constituents are angry and upset about the current situation and the trickling effects of countless listings. Real lives are being impacted. It is time for some real changes. The changes I=ve suggested will have a significant affect on the quality of science, public participation, state involvement, speed in recovery, and finally the delisting of a species. Species that truly need protection will be protected, but let=s not lose sight of the real goalBrecovery and delisting.