Western governors back Endangered Species Act, with changes

The Republican-dominated Western Governors Association endorsed the aims of the Endangered Species Act this week but asked Congress to make changes, including giving states a bigger role and clarifying recovery goals for species protected by the law.

The governors said Western states benefit economically from healthy species and ecosystems but bear the burden of land-use restrictions that usually come with species protection, as well as some of the cost of recovery programs.

The 22-member association approved a resolution giving qualified backing for the act during a meeting in Whitefish, Montana. The governors include 14 Republicans, six Democrats and two independents. The vote count wasn’t released.

The group passed a similar resolution last year.

Endangered species protection is controversial because it generally results in limits on mining, oil and gas drilling, agriculture and other economic activities.

Officials in some states have complained they are not given a big enough role in deciding what species should be protected, and how.

New Mexico sued the federal government last year over the release of more endangered Mexican gray wolves within its borders. The state lost an early round, but the lawsuit is still pending.

Three weeks ago, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced his department will review the Obama administration’s 2015 plan to protect the greater sage grouse, saying some governors complained their concerns were ignored.

The Western Governors Association asked Congress to change the act to require federal agencies to actively pursue the removal of species from protection once they have recovered, and to clarify recovery goals.

They also said states should be “full partners” in decisions on whether to protect a species, what habitat should be protected, what steps are taken to help species recover and whether to take a species off the protected list.

The association asked for a better definition of the phrase “foreseeable future” in the law, especially when expected effects of climate change are a factor in decisions.

The governors urged lawmakers to give federal agencies more flexibility in carrying out the law. They said recovery programs need more federal money and that giving private landowners economic incentives to conserve habitat could keep some species off the endangered list.

The association includes the governors of 19 states and three U.S. territories.


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