Mar 17, 2016 | Alliance Op/Ed

Making the Endangered Species Act work better is goal of governors, ranchers

This public-private partnership in the West is yielding positive results, and it’s a story worth telling.

The Family Farm Alliance continued its close work with Western governors to find ways to improve implementation of the federal Endangered Species Act when Alliance President Patrick O’Toole participated in the second workshop of the Western Governors Association “Chairman’s Initiative” in Boise, Idaho. The Western Governors’ Species Conservation and Endangered Species Act Initiative is the Chairman’s Initiative of Wyoming Governor Matt Mead.

The initiative is intended to create a mechanism for states to share best practices in species management, promote and elevate the role of states in species conservation efforts, and explore ways to improve the efficacy of the ESA. Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter hosted and spoke at the Boise workshop, which focused on the role of state and local governments in coordination and consultation, best available science, and incentivizing private landowners.

WGA Chairman Mead last November kicked off the opening workshop of his Initiative at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody. Pat O’Toole also participated in the Cody workshop, where he spoke on a panel of agricultural and forestry interests, describing challenges, success stories and possible solutions to make implementation of the ESA work better for the environment and rural communities.

He discussed the issue of the ESA at the family level and how it impacts family farms, and how his family’s 25-year voluntary conservation efforts have bolstered sage grouse and wild trout populations on his sheep and cattle ranch in Wyoming. He also underscored how the listing of the delta smelt in California has been a “tragic story” and that the ESA has unfortunately instilled fear in too many farmers, ranchers, and irrigators.

Making it work

Can ranchers and farmers come together with conservationists to have a future that we all feel comfortable about? There will be a lot of pressures we’ll all have to face in this regard, and we’ll have to find a balanced place.

Pat O’Toole also presented the Alliance’s vision for making the ESA work better in a high-level forum hosted by the Farm Foundation at the National Press in Washington, DC. Dave Willms, Policy Advisor to Governor Mead, appeared with Pat at the November 10 event.

Pat O’Toole and the Alliance have long advocated for constructive changes to make implementation of the ESA work better for species, farmers and ranchers, and Western rural communities. The Alliance in 2014 authored an ESA white paper that seeks to find ways to modernize the ESA for species and people in the Western U.S., and has testified on numerous occasions before Congressional committees on this topic. Last February, a “Tour of Discovery” workshop was conducted by the Alliance at its annual conference in Las Vegas, where over 60 diverse interests identified a handful of common-sense actions that could be taken to make the ESA perform better.

Building upon the momentum and attention generated by WGA, we hope to continue the long, hard-fought battle to make the ESA a law that works for both imperiled species and Western rural communities.