Western governors are calling on Congress to amend the federal Endangered Species Act, with an eye for increasing the role of state governments in the use of the law.
The Western Governors Association made recommendations Wednesday for what states and federal agencies can do to improve species conservation and recovery.
Wyoming Governor Matt Mead has spearheaded the WGA’s Species Conservation and Endangered Species Act Initiative since 2015. Speaking at the WGA annual meeting in Whitefish, he said he hopes all interested parties can find a sweet spot for managing species of concern.
"It's not only been a process that I think ultimately will lead to improvements in the Endangered Species Act, it again, is a confirmation that here in the West, the western governors, that we can work, — Republican and Democrat alike — to make substantive changes in an area that is important, not only for the West, but frankly for this country," Mead said.
The list of recommendations includes increasing funding for listed and recovered species management, promoting voluntary conservation projects, increasing transparency and reauthorizing and amending the Endangered Species Act. The governors also recommend more state involvement in all aspects of listing and de-listing, especially when models are involved. The current ESA already allows for some state input, but the governors want more.
"In short, these recommendations will make the ESA work more effectively for the species that require its protection," said Mead.
While the resolution is more a list of recommendations than binding policy change, Marjorie Mulhall, legislative counsel for EarthJustice in Washington, D.C., says some of the recommendations are damaging to the Endangered Species Act itself.
"To have a body like the Western Governors Association calling for legislative changes to this incredibly successful popular law is troubling," Mulhall says, "and certainly unhelpful in the efforts of so many people all across the country working together to make sure that the Endangered Species Act stays safe in this current Congress."
Mulhall says she’s tracking 29 proposed bills that she says would weaken or gut the Endangered Species Act, by rewriting it entirely or addressing individual species on the list. She says she’s seen a lot of frustration from Congress members, who think Act is failing because species are rarely considered recovered and de-listed. She says that’s the wrong way to consider the Act’s success.
"The true measure, and in line with what the act sets out to do, is to prevent extinction of imperiled species, and by that measure, the actual purpose of the act, this law has been incredibly successful," Mulhall says. "It’s prevented more than 99 percent of protected species from going extinct."
The WGA resolution says the 19 governors that are members will work with Congressional committees and the executive branch to achieve their goals.