I would like to thank Senator Thomas for giving me the opportunity to address the concerns of Wyoming’s Sportsmen as they relate to the Endangered Species Act (ESA). As you are well aware, for the last two years Sportsmen for Fish & Wildlife of Wyoming has been involved in several discussions across the state talking with Sportsmen about some of the challenges regarding to the delisting of wolves and grizzly bears. Since I am limited in the amount of time most of my testimony will be directed towards our involvement with the process of delisting the gray wolf.
In 1995, gray wolves were introduced to the Yellowstone Region. Little effort, if any, was expended to determine how many Rocky Mountain wolves were in the area; yet, efforts to introduce the much larger and voracious gray wolf moved along full-steam ahead. The actions of those responsible for the introduction of these wolves demonstrated that they were not in fact concerned about Rocky Mountain wolves but rather that they were bent on achieving their agenda. Had there really been any concern about wolves as a species, why wasn’t more done to protect remnant populations of existing Rocky Mountain wolves? One major problem with the ESA today is that some have high-jacked it to accomplish their agenda of eliminating hunting, eliminating public land grazing, and controlling land use practices.
Sportsmen attended numerous meetings where a wolf management plan was presented and discussed. New legislation was drafted and passed in 2003 establishing a duel listing for wolves in Wyoming. In August of 2003, the Wyoming Game & Fish Commission approved the wolf management plan written by the WY G&F Department. Once all three states (ID, MT, & WY) completed their wolf management plans, a peer review group comprised of 12 wolf experts was asked to review them. In late November, the comments from 11 of the 12 were made available to the public. 10 out of the 11 wolf experts approved the management plans for the three states of which comprise the Western Distinct Population Segment. In early 2004 the USFWS approves Idaho’s and Montana’s wolf management plans; yet, rejects Wyoming’s plan. Management decisions are suppose to be based on the best available science. While attending two different meetings this year officials from the USFWS publicly admitted that Wyoming’s plan was both biologically and scientifically sound; yet, it was rejected because someone in the Solicitor’s Office questioned whether it would withstand a legal challenge. Another major problem with the ESA act is that the legal system is determining when a species should be delisted rather than relying on sound biological and scientific principles approved by professionals which are experts of a particular species.
Another concern expressed by Wyoming’s Sportsmen has to do with the limitations the ESA places on the protection of wildlife from protected species. Wolves can be removed for depredating livestock but must reduce wildlife populations by 50% in two consecutive years. This would mean that the Northern Elk herd which once was in excess of 20,000 animals would need to be reduced from 20,000 animals to 10,000 in one year and from 10,000 animals to 5,000 the following year. Sportsmen have invested several billion dollars in developing and maintaining huntable populations of big game animals. Since the introduction of wolves the Northern Elk herd has plummeted from an excess of 20,000 animals to just over 9,000 animals. Recent studies show that wolves and grizzly bears are a major contributing source to the decline. Elk numbers continue to decline and the delisting will not occur for another 3-5 years if we are lucky. Wolves have far surpassed recovery goals yet they continue being protected under the ESA. The frustrating thing is that the USFWS tried to coerce Wyoming into abandoning the desires of its citizens and yielding additional ground to those which threaten our heritage of hunting, fishing, trapping, etc. Some common sense approaches and state and local input need to be restored to the ESA so that protected animals can not continue to deplete other wildlife resource, specifically once they have met established delisting criteria.
In summary, some of the problems within the ESA Sportsmen have identified are:
· The ESA has been high-jacked by some groups and individuals in an attempt to accomplish their agenda of eliminating hunting, eliminating public land grazing, and controlling land use practices,
· Decision are being influenced more by politics than by sound biology and science,
· Common sense seems to have been abandoned or absent from the process once a species is listed.
· In some cases, the listing or protection of one species (mountain lion) may cause the demise of another (Sierra Nevada Bighorn)
· In other cases the true cause of declines is neglected (raven and red fox predation on sage grouse) and a political agenda is attributed (grazing)
· States who the US Supreme Court has ruled own the game species, are dramatically impacted with no recourse or management options when the Federal Government list species that are not endangered (wolves are abundant in Alaska and Canada)
The ESA continues to have very staggering costs associated with it. See attached article about the Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse. Litigation seems to be the only way anything moves through the process. It appears as though it is easier to list a species than it is to (DELIST?) recover a species. This becomes even more perplexing when you look at the theory of evolution. Some species probably can not be protected indefinitely. Some common sense approaches need to be established to reduce our impacts in areas where applicable. However, the ESA probably would not have stopped the dinosaur from becoming extinct either. A clear distinction also needs to be made between species that are truly threatened or endangered and those which no longer inhabit their full traditional range or distribution.