Commentary: A Western coalition has an Endangered Species Act agreement and plan for species conservation that could be a framework for the future.
There is definitely some excitement in the Western agricultural community about what the new administration and Congress can accomplish. And there is good reason for excitement. But there also is reason for caution. While some are speculating that things like “repealing and replacing” the Endangered Species Act are doable, others view such a repeal in the larger political context in which critics will cast the Trump administration and Republican Congress as the “most anti-environment government in history.”
The Family Farm Alliance sits on the steering committee of the Western Agriculture and Conservation Coalition (WACC), a diverse group of organizations that first came together a decade ago around the farm bill conservation title, with the goal of supporting the common interests of agriculture and conservation. Other founding steering committee members included Trout Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, California Farm Bureau, Environmental Defense Fund, Public Lands Council, Arizona Cattle Growers Association, Wyoming Stock Growers Association and the Irrigation Association. The group has expanded in recent years; for a complete list of members, visit waccoalition.org.
The WACC provides a core that can help policymakers and our collective members remember that the foundation for some true, collaborative solutions that are driven from the constructive “center.”
The work that our coalition has undertaken regarding ESA modernization could not be timelier. The coalition recently sent a letter to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee outlining the platform agreed to on ESA and species conservation. This letter is noteworthy and significant, in that a very diverse group of interests found some common ground on a contentious topic. The ongoing effort by the Western Governors Association Species Conservation and ESA Initiative is a process that has had some influence on this effort, and for which WACC has previously expressed formal support. The WACC has yet to take a position on any recommendations that have come out of the WGA effort.
The WACC-shared perspective on species conservation is rooted in our experience with practical, on-the-ground solutions that work well for ranchers, farmers and other landowners, as well as for fish, wildlife and plants. Indeed, maintaining a mosaic of working farms and ranches, along with lands managed for conservation purposes, represents the best opportunity for conserving the ecosystems upon which species depend. The aim is to make sure species do not decline to the point where a listing under the ESA is warranted, and so that currently listed species can recover.
Unless industry and conservation come together, the public policies and resource management strategies necessary to maintain a viable and sustainable rural West will be impossible to achieve. There will always be isolated instances of successful partnerships, but these discrete examples of success will not suffice. The threats to a viable and sustainable rural West are numerous, complex and varied. A broad and authoritative voice like that of the WACC is needed to effectively address these threats with collaborative solutions. The coalition’s recent ESA letter is "Exhibit A" toward that end.