Good afternoon Mr. Chairman, members of the Subcommittee. My neighbors and constituents appreciate your interest in the impact of the bull trout listing on rural Idaho.
My name is Brad Little. I represent Gem and Canyon Counties in the Idaho State Senate. I serve on the Resource and Environment Committee, which has jurisdiction over Endangered Species Act (ESA) issues. I also ranch in bull trout habitat. My neighbors and I have suffered the economic costs of endangered species recovery. Our ranch has taken non-use on a very good federal grazing allotment administered by the U.S. Forest Service that supports salmon, wolves and bull trout. Both the wolves and salmon were introduced by the federal government and after many years of working to balance the interests between grazing and listed species, the regulatory costs became more of a burden than the pasture was worth. Consequently, we no longer graze on this federal ground. My goal today is to protect our neighbors from suffering a similar fate.
The cost to my legislative district is massive. Today, Boise Cascade, one of the largest landowners in the state is pondering whether to stay in the timber business or sell their approximately 200,000 acres of prime wildlife and recreational open space due to the draconian costs of land management with bull trout regulations being one of the most costly. If Boise Cascade elects to sell their lands to the highest bidder, these critical open spaces will be lost forever. Already over 500 jobs have been lost due to the Boise Cascade decision to consolidate their timber processing outside of Idaho. As a result of the mill closure the cost of timber on the stump has dropped by 40%. This translates into a loss of one-million dollars per year to the Idaho Public Schools Endowment. I hardly think that the authors of the Endangered Species Act intended for this to occur.
My neighbors are all outdoor and wildlife advocates. They enjoy clean water and abundant wildlife. They provide a critical part of the ecosystem for wildlife. We should not saddle them with a disproportional amount of the costs for species recovery. I implore Congress to use the tools that make America great to fix this dilemma. Our representative democracy and the free-market system are the keys to resolving problems, to produce incentives for good management, and to be results-oriented, as is the need for species recovery.
The issue of adequate and sustainable funding for recovery is paramount. What happens if the funding goes away? Will we be forced by a federal judge to cease irrigating and ranching? Are our actions tied to adequate federal funding? I ask for your guidance to Idaho on this critical aspect of recovery.
Let me give you a good example. Some of my property is near Squaw Creek, an important stream for bull trout in the area. Most of the land upstream is federal land, and the lower portions are private with a number of land use activities. There has been a great deal of discussion and investigation regarding bull trout recovery on Squaw Creek. We have some good ideas and many farmers and ranchers are interested. If some of the proposals were implemented, the irrigators and ranchers in the upper Gem County area would have enormous costs for fish screens and more stringent riparian management regulations. A recent assessment and proposal for needs in the Squaw Creek area estimate costs as much as $300,000. Are we to bear all of these costs? Are we punished if we do not follow-through with these projects?
Without an exact goal, current, bull trout are a disincentive to good management. If a landowner has a riparian area without bull trout and the possibility that better management will create higher water quality bringing in bull trout—the incentive is not to improve the riparian habitat. Mr. Chairman, we should not have to fear the consequences of good management. Why should a land manager make the improvements in riparian habitat that would be conducive to bull trout habitat and thus more regulation? To overcome this disincentive, I recommend establishment of a concrete measurable end goal of so many bull trout or so many acres of habitat. The disincentive is significantly reduced if a reasonable goal is established where proliferation of the species is beneficial versus detrimental.
Allow us to be partners on recovery issues. Allow the State of Idaho the responsibility to implement recovery programs. I work with the state on water quality issues, and I am sure it is better than working with the EPA. The state has responsibility for water quality issues and they should also have responsibility for ESA recovery programs.
Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for giving hope to Idaho that we can maintain an improving ecosystem and sustainable rural communities, no simple challenge. I of course would be happy to respond to questions.