Hageman and State Authorities Promote Evading the Endangered Species Act

Wolf populations in Montana and Idaho were delisted by Congress a decade ago, and now similar efforts are being made for grizzly bears in the areas around Yellowstone and Glacier national parks and wolves across the continental United States.

Last week, a state official from Wyoming testified that he favored utilizing “whatever measures are required” to get management power over the grizzly bears in the Yellowstone region, which are now under federal protection.

The head of the Wyoming Game and Wildlife Department, Brian Nesvik, commented on a speech favoring H.R. 1245 – Grizzly bear state management act of 2023 – by U.S. Rep. Harriet Hageman. The legislation would forbid any further legal challenges to the delisting of grizzly bears and would oblige federal wildlife officials to reinstate the decision they made five years ago.

Nesvik told a House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee-

“The best way to celebrate the success [of grizzly recovery] is to delist and return management to the states and the tribes where it belongs — and to do so by whatever means is necessary. “The bill you are considering today would certainly achieve the conservation outcome we feel is best for the management of grizzly bears and the people of our state.” 

Hageman has previously argued that forcing states to go through a third delisting campaign for the 1,000+ grizzlies living in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem under the Endangered Species Act is unfair. Before being overruled by a federal court, the first two efforts were initially successful in 2007 and 2017.

Hageman and State Authorities Promote Evading the Endangered Species Act

“Meanwhile, environmental litigants have been holding farmers, ranchers, and the government hostage to their demands and to protect their pocketbooks,” Hageman said. “Wyoming is done waiting on the federal government when the science has said for a long time that it’s time to act.”

The state simultaneously petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to pursue grizzly delisting via its regular channels while seeking legislation that would sidestep the ESA. The agency has shown interest in the state’s proposal and is now conducting a “complete status review”; this assessment is necessary before the agency can propose and then implement a final delisting regulation, which may take years.

To sidestep the Endangered Species Act, senators from the West presented two alternative proposals on Thursday. Representative Lauren Boebert (R-CO) has been advocating for H.R. 764, the “Trust the science act,” which would roll back a 2020 decision by federal wildlife authorities to delist gray wolves in the Lower 48 states.

Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana are the only states in the Northern Rockies with control over wolf management and hunting. Yet, state authority may not stand the test of time: States in the Northern Rockies are waiting for the findings of a thorough status review to see what the Fish and Wildlife Service will do next about petitions seeking the relisting of wolves.

U.S. Representative Matt Ryan (R-Montana) introduced a measure before the committee that would circumvent the ESA by instructing the Fish and Wildlife Service to delist the over a thousand grizzly bears that live in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. Hageman cosponsored the bill.

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Steve Guertin, the deputy director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, spoke against the recent wave of legislation concerning the ESA. He pointed out that the conservation legislation, now 50 years old, mandates that policymakers pay attention to the most up-to-date scientific evidence.

“It’s not uncommon for the Service’s listing or delisting rules to be challenged in court,” Guertin said. “The judicial systems become part of the body of law interpreting the ESA, and the [Fish and Wildlife] Service adjusts its approach accordingly.”

Since its founding in 1973, the ESA has had widespread support since it has prevented the extinction of 99 percent of listed species. Republican U.S. Senator Clifford Hansen and Democratic U.S. Senator Gale McGee and U.S. Representative Teno Roncalio all voted in favor of it.

There has been an uptick in criticism of the ESA recently, particularly from Republicans. In 2011, a rider attached to the federal budget bill transferred the control of wolves in Montana and Idaho back to the respective states. The greater sage grouse is an endangered species whose stronghold is Wyoming. But, Congress has placed clauses in budget bills prohibiting spending money on species listing.

Environmental law firm Earthjustice’s managing attorney Tim Preso told WyoFile that efforts by Congress to legislate around the ESA are “troubling.”

“With these delisting actions, the history has been — it’s not just based on speculation — that the states don’t step in to be guardians,” Preso said. “They’ve stepped in to ramp up the persecution [of formerly protected species], and that’s why the Endangered Species Act is so important for species like these.”

If Wyoming’s petition is granted, the 1,069 grizzly bears in the Yellowstone area would be reduced to 932 by k*lling. On Thursday, Chris Servheen, a former grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said he was the primary advocate for delisting grizzlies during the first effort.

Once states passed laws encouraging “aggressive, indiscriminate wildlife hunting practices into grizzly bear habitat,” he altered his mind. “The lack of adequate regulatory mechanisms [protecting grizzlies and wolves] is due to political interference in the management of wildlife,” Servheen said.

The director of Wyoming Game and Wildlife disagreed with Servheen’s analysis. “I would certainly disagree,” Nesvik testified. “We have gone to great lengths to ensure that we have laws and regulations on the books that very conservatively manage grizzly bears within the core of their suitable habitat.”

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