July 27, 2008

Candidates in Unison on Wildlife

By Bill McCarthy

By Bill McCarthy

[email protected]

CHEYENNE - All the candidates for Wyoming's lone seat in House of Representatives agree the Endangered Species Act needs tweaking.

And all concur that the level of contentiousness between the political parties has made finding solutions to problems with the act ever more difficult.

"The sad thing about politics in America in 2008 is that we got good at politics and completely lost sight of policy," said Cynthia Lummis, a Republican. "The Endangered Species Act is the poster child for that. Politics is supposed to be a means to address policy."

Added Republican Bill Winney, "We need to find a good middle ground. Wildlife does matter to Wyoming. But we lose the ability to look for a balanced approach (when politics become so heated.)"

Mark Gordon, another Republican, said, "We can move forward or stay at a complete stalemate over endangered species."

Democrat Gary Trauner added, "To some people, it seems the party label is more important than doing right by the Constitution and the country. It's an incredibly emotional thing."

Issues such as endangered species should not be about winning and losing, Trauner said, but about preserving species and protecting ecosystems.

A recent decision by the federal government to protect the Preble's Meadow Jumping Mouse in Colorado but not in Wyoming illustrates changes at the federal and state level.

The federal government has added flexibility to its interpretation of the law that conservationists say is dangerous.

And a proactive approach by the state to avoid endangered species listings appears to be a strategy that is working.

But a U.S. district judge's preliminary injunction last week that restored endangered species protection for gray wolves in the Northern Rockies shows how quickly the situation can change.

Environmentalists sought the injunction as part of a suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over its decision to remove the wolves from the endangered species list in March.

Environmentalists also say they intend to sue over the Preble's mouse decision, which could affect Laramie County, since the mice are found here.

Each of the candidates says they support the state's proactive efforts on the issue and would work in Congress to facilitate that approach.

"Clearly, if we can think ahead far enough that we don't have to bring the heavy-handed approach of the federal government into it, it's a good thing," Trauner said.

He said the feds need to provide more incentives to landowners to protect species before they are endangered.

There needs to be "good science upfront," Trauner said, adding that the federal government needs to "define the criteria for delisiting."

"Vague laws are bad laws," he added.

Gordon, a rancher, said, "What's critical is to think about how best to involve (landowners) in success rather than threatening them with unbelievable restrictions.

"At the federal level, we need accurate information. It's hard now to believe almost anything you see."

See Endangered, page A5

So the proactive and practical approach at the state, county and local level does provide better information for judgments on managing specific cases, Gordon added.

Congress should aid with that process rather than fighting it, he said.

Winney said, "Different states have different needs."

Each should be able to pursue what it believes is the best course toward preserving species, he added.

Lummis said the act has been stood on its head by judicial decisions and federal agency actions.

"I think (the act) can be salvaged," she added. "But I'm not sure it can be."

Lummis is "very pleased with the proactive stance of the state of Wyoming."

But she cited several examples of the federal government turning a blind eye to state and local efforts and making decisions that are not practical for local citizens.

Lummis said that cattle have to be managed differently at her ranch in Laramie County as compared to her ranch in Platte County.

"Unique ecosystems require a unique set of solutions," she said. "The one-size-fits-all, dictated-from-Washington solution doesn't work for Wyoming."

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