Click here to watch Governor Freudenthal’s testimony.  

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), welcomed Wyoming’s former Democratic Governor David Freudenthal to the committee.

Gov. Freudenthal was testifying before the committee at an oversight hearing on “Modernization of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).” The hearing focused on the need to modernize the ESA in order to improve recovery rates and lead to the eventual delisting of recovered species.

Wyoming is a leader in addressing issues associated with the ESA. Current Gov. Matt Mead has worked with other western states to develop an Endangered Species Act policy for the Western Governors Association, including specific recommendations for improvements to species conservation and to the ESA.

In his opening remarks, Chairman Barrasso welcomed Gov. Freudenthal to the committee. “I would like to start by introducing the first guest, the Honorable David Freudenthal, who served as the Democrat governor of Wyoming from 2003 to 2011,” said Barrasso.

“Governor Freudenthal served as U.S. Attorney for Wyoming from 1994 to 2001 and before that, as an attorney in private practice. Governor Freudenthal has returned to his roots and currently serves as an attorney providing legal counsel on domestic and international environmental and natural resources issues. In each of these positions, Governor Freudenthal has accumulated a wealth of experience with the Endangered Species Act.

“I hope Governor Freudenthal will tell us about his extensive leadership in balancing stakeholder interests from across the political spectrum to effectively and efficiently address challenges posed by the grizzly bear, the wolf, the sage grouse, and other species.

“Governor Freudenthal, it is a distinct honor to welcome you here today as a witness before the Environment and Public Works Committee, so that we might benefit from your years of experience and insight on this important topic. As a Democrat, your presence underscores the bipartisan opportunity we have to modernize the Endangered Species Act. Thank you for traveling to Washington today. We look forward to hearing your testimony,” said Barrasso.

In his written testimony, Gov. Freudenthal called for an update of the listing process. Too often, he noted, petitioners fail to adequately investigate the threat level against a species, leaving the government to spend valuable resources to study and determine endangerment. “To date, Wyoming has spent almost $110,000 in state funds, funds that could have been directed to on-the-ground habitat work to conserve mule deer, bighorn sheep and other wildlife, to complete the inadequate homework of the petitioner,” said Governor Freudenthal. 

Freudenthal also cautioned against the common practice of over-including species on the list that may not actually be endangered. “A second, but certainly related factor at play in this context is the ‘precautionary principle,’ which encourages movement towards listing based on the absence of data.”

He continued “at some point, the candidate species list became so long that it lost its value in terms of helping order ESA priorities.”

Freudenthal stressed that to aid in the recovery of endangered species, de-listing needs to be a priority. “De-listing has not been a priority for USFWS. Manpower is usually cited as the reason for delay but the process could be simplified by specifying, at the time of listing, the requirements to delist and adhering to them absent a rulemaking or new petition that presents information to suggest that delisting is not warranted.”

While the governor applauded the purpose of the ESA, he pointed to its burdensome effects that can prevent effective species recovery. “While very noble in intent, the ESA has matured into full blown, unfunded federal mandate. State recreation agencies and game and fish departments are stretched to the breaking point by the costs of managing fish, wildlife and recreation resources. One of the unintended consequences of passage of the ESA in 1973 was severely taxing these already stretched resources.”