My name is Jane Gorsuch and I am the Vice President for Idaho Affairs for the Intermountain Forest Association (IFA). The IFA is an organization of wood product manufacturers, timberland owners and related businesses in the northern Rockies. Our Association develops and implements solution-oriented policies aimed at securing a stable and sustainable supply of timber on public and private lands.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide oral testimony to the Subcommittee today. I appreciate the time of the Subcommittee and staff to hold this field hearing on such an important matter –Cooperation With States on Bull Trout Recovery under the Endangered Species Act.
It is indeed an honor for me to appear before you, the distinguished Subcommittee Chairman and Senator from Idaho. On behalf of our members, I hope to provide some ideas to the Subcommittee for ensuring that sufficient progress is made toward achieving bull trout recovery; explore the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s cooperation with states in implementing bull trout recovery programs; identify additional opportunities for expanding the role of states in recovery; identify how “recovery” will be measured and determined; and to identify how to return management authority to the states upon achieving recovery goals.
IFA and Idaho's forest industry support programs to benefit fish and forests. Our members have taken, and continue to take, measures that not only protect, but also recover fish listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Many of our members have been active since the beginning of the State’s effort to conserve bull trout and thus avoid a federal listing of bull trout in Idaho. We have, since the first, called for local solutions to these issues and continue to call for these types of approaches to aid the recovery of listed species.
If the focus is on voluntary, incentive based efforts to accomplish fisheries benefits, there is much that can be accomplished. Balance is the key. Finding the activities that most benefit fish and still allow a wide range of forest management activities is our mission and should be the goal of the federal family as well. IFA has advocated this general approach for management of bull trout prior to its listing.
We supported, and participated in, the Idaho State Bull Trout Conservation Plan. These efforts were meant to bring benefits to fisheries and thereby avoid a federal listing of bull trout.
Unfortunately, the federal government did not support these local planning efforts and listed the fish anyway. This action, after much State and local effort was made to create and implement a State Bull Trout Conservation Plan, created much animosity and ill will. Since the listing, local planning under the State Bull Trout Conservation Plan lost momentum. This is unfortunate as there were several benefits that could have been achieved. This is an example of where the federal listing stalled progress of recovery rather than promoted it.
After the federal listing occurred, the focus for listed native fish planning efforts become more complicated. Local land owners, previously interested in participating in conservation efforts under a State of Idaho plan, now expressed a need to receive legal assurances that they would not be penalized under the ESA for incidentally harming the very fish they had previously been helping. With the listing, non-federal landowners lost the voluntary incentive to take steps to conserve habitat and protect fish and to assist the federal government with their job of recovering listed fish.
Under the ESA today, the private landowner obligation is to not "take" a member of the listed species. This obligation has proven hard to define and is a counterproductive standard. If the fundamental objective of this law is to do reasonable things to benefit species in decline (an objective we support), incentive based programs need to be established to allow private landowners to embrace programs which go beyond the avoidance of take, and bring benefits to species which will aid in their recovery. We are looking for ways to make that work in Idaho.
With listing of the bull trout, the heavy hand of the ESA descended upon non-federal landowners creating a chilling effect on continued voluntary efforts. We have been pursuing options that bring the non-federal landowner back to the table to assist in meeting the federal recovery goal while providing them protection.
The focus has shifted to a more general program, administered by the State, where interested private forest landowners can voluntarily enroll their lands in conservation and recovery efforts, pledging adherence to forest practices which will afford even larger benefits to fish than would otherwise occur, and by doing so would receive legal compliance assurance under the ESA.
IFA has been in lengthy and comprehensive discussions with both the State and Federal officials about accomplishing this result.
We think we are close to implementing a program which will bring these results on the ground.
Discussion of the specific details of this program is not possible in a public forum at this time because these conversations are being conducted under a federal court confidentiality order.
However, they do include the same important elements we have discussed previously.
1) Special management practices for fish bearing streams, which ensures that important riparian functions are protected and enhanced; 2) New standards for road construction and stream crossings where it will impact fish resources and;
3) An important program to correct "legacy" problems, identified through the state's CWE process, and possible cooperative funding mechanisms to assist non-federal landowners to accomplish the legacy problem corrections.
Our vision is that the federal government will agree to the basic standards of this program, and then allow it to be fully administered by the state as an extension of the state's forest practice act authorities. Private forest landowners would then voluntarily enroll their forest lands to accomplish the benefits for fisheries on their land, and receive ESA compliance assurances, and qualify for cooperative funding opportunities.
This could set a new model for incentive based, voluntary participation in endangered species management, which should bring rapid benefits to the species. It can make State governments and private landowners partners with the Federal government in recovering listed species while allowing state and private forest land owners the opportunity to continue to utilize their forest resources.
Science shows the biggest benefits to fish come from careful correction of legacy road issues, stream crossing issues, and stream barriers problems. We know these practices work and encourage their use rather than extensive new land use restrictions.
Sec. 6 of the ESA seems to us to be directed at exactly the program we describe. We believe that this approach may well be the future of federal/non-federal cooperation in the future.
Thank you again for the opportunity to provide input on these important topics. I stand for any questions you may have.