Utah representatives support Trump administration’s proposal to alter Endangered Species Act

Prairie dog numbers are up for the fifth consecutive year on the Dixie National Forest, date, location not specified | File photo, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – Efforts are afoot by the Trump administration and some congressional Republicans to enact changes to the Endangered Species Act that officials say will simplify and modernize the landmark wildlife policy.

Reforming the Endangered Species Act is a good thing and absolutely necessary,” Rep. Chris Stewart told St. George News Tuesday.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic Administration Administration last week issued a joint statement outlining proposed changes to the act.

Among those changes would be dropping a blanket rule that extends the same level of protection to threatened species that endangered species currently enjoy. Future at-risk species listing proposals will be examined on a more case-by-case basis. The policy change would not apply to species already listed under the Endangered Species Act.

“No two species are the same, and so by crafting species-specific … rules for threatened species, we can tailor appropriate protections using best available science according to each species’ biological needs,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Principal Deputy Director Greg Sheehan said.

Changes to the Endangered Species Act proposed by the Trump administration would not impact the current status of the Mohave desert tortoise, which is listed as threatened under the act. | Undated file photo by John Kellam, courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management, St. George News.

Other proposed changes include revisions that could limit how “critical habitat” for threatened and endangered plants and animal is designated, as well as the examination of specific factors surrounding how future species may be listed and delisted.

Currently, federal agencies that enforce the Endangered Species Act are directed to make decisions based on scientific data alone. Under the proposed policy overhaul, those agencies could also consider economic data.

The proposal would remove the phrase,“without reference to possible economic or other impacts of such determination,” which supporters say limits the scope of what federal agencies may consider.

“In removing the phrase … the (Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA) are not suggesting that all listing determinations will include a presentation of economic or other impacts,” the 38-page proposed policy document reads. “Rather, there may be circumstances where such impacts are referenced while ensuring that biological considerations remain the sole basis for listing determinations.”

Stewart characterized the potential consideration of economic factors as “absolutely necessary.”

I’m not suggesting we let a species go extinct because of the economic impact,” he said, “but it’s fair to measure the economic impacts and understand what they could be. … When you understand what the impacts can be, it brings urgency to fixing the problem.”

As an example, Stewart pointed to the Utah prairie dog, which has caused issues in Iron County and elsewhere in Southern Utah. The prairie dog is one of 18 species in Utah listed as threatened or endangered.

If the economic impacts of listing the burrowing rodent had been better understood years ago, it may not have turned into an ongoing issue and headache for local residents, Stewart said.

The prairie dog has come to be seen as a pest by some Iron County residents and officials due to damage they’ve caused to public and private property. Those looking to either sell or develop property have also been frustrated due to the protected species appearing on their land.

Prairie dog | File photo, St. George News / Cedar City News

Like other members of Congress who have sought to reform the Endangered Species Act, Stewart has proposed related legislation. In 2014 he introduced a bill focused on getting the federal government to count listed species found on both public and private land.

Read more: Stewart’s Endangered Species Act designed to protect species from extinction

“Federal land in Iron County is a bunch of sagebrush and rock where there’s no cover or water, so it’s not great habitat for the prairie dog,” Stewart said. “So where do they go? They go onto private lands where there’s grass and alfalfa and there’s the cover they need.”

A majority of the prairie dogs dwell on private land and because of that their numbers are not counted toward species recovery under the Endangered Species Act.

They’re continuing to say the prairie dogs are endangered when they are not,” he said.

Stewart also said he would like to give state and local governments more say and involvement in managing the conservation of at-risk species.

Not everyone is pleased with the proposed changes, however.

The proposals have drawn condemnation from Democrats and wildlife advocates.

Critics say the moves would speed extinctions in the name of furthering an anti-environment agenda. Species currently under consideration for protections are considered especially at risk, including the North American wolverine and the monarch butterfly.

It essentially turns every listing of a species into a negotiation,” said Noah Greenwald with the Center for Biological Diversity. “They could decide that building in a species’ habitat or logging in trees where birds nest doesn’t constitute harm.”

Conflicts have arisen in the decades since the 1973 passage of the Endangered Species Act, ranging from disruptions to logging to protect spotted owls in the Pacific Northwest, to attacks on livestock that have accompanied the restoration of gray wolves in the Rocky Mountains and upper Midwest.

The Monarch butterfly is a species conservation groups fear will be negatively impacted by proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act. | File photo, St. George News

Some species, including gray wolves and grizzly bears, retained protection for years after meeting their original recovery goals, often due to court orders resulting from environmentalists’ lawsuits.

More than 700 animals and almost 1,000 plants in the U.S. are shielded by the law. Hundreds more are under consideration for protection.

Fewer than 100 species have been taken off the threatened and endangered lists, either because they were deemed recovered or, in at least 10 cases, went extinct.

The administration’s proposals follow longstanding criticism of the Endangered Species Act by business groups and some members of Congress. Republican lawmakers are pushing legislation to enact broad changes to the law, saying it hinders economic activities while doing little to restore species.

The federal government is seeking public input on the proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act. Comments are due by Sept. 24 and can be submitted through Regulations.gov

To comment on any of these rules electronically, click on the links below. Then click the “Comment Now” button:

Other members of Utah’s congressional delegation also shared their thoughts on the proposed policy reform and the Endangered Species Act in general:

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee

It’s no secret that modernizing the Endangered Species Act is long overdue. DOI’s proposed rules incorporate public input, innovative science and best practices to improve efficiency and certainty for federal agencies and the public. I commend Secretary Zinke and Deputy Secretary Bernhardt for their excellent leadership on this issue and look forward to working with my colleagues to enshrine these actions into law.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah

Too often some of the federal government’s well intentioned environmental laws blindly regulate animal habitats without any regard for rural Utah communities. The Utah prairie dog, for example, has bounced back from endangered status but is still managed under the same regulations that it was when it was endangered. This animal has ruined crops, homes, and even cemeteries in some rural Utah towns but residents can’t do anything to stop them. Any step that seeks to rebalance environmental protection with the needs of rural communities is a step in the right direction.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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13 Comments

  • Steve July 27, 2018 at 6:41 am

    Utah’s representatives are all bad for the environment and endangered species. They also don’t care about people.

    • statusquo July 27, 2018 at 8:28 am

      Sorry you feel that way Steve. You might want to consider one of the other 49 states in which to live.

      • No Filter July 27, 2018 at 3:13 pm

        Do you always run away from your problems? Because that is what you are telling Steve to do. Keep fighting Steve! We can make Utah a better place for people like us who actually care about the environment.

        • mesaman July 27, 2018 at 8:29 pm

          Your comment suggests you (and Steve) should be counted as the “good guys” and the saviors of the world while the rest of us are brigands of the environment and feckless beyond that. Is that the picture you want painted? . . . “Like us who actually care about the environment”.

      • John July 27, 2018 at 3:50 pm

        The clueless SJWs are out today! hahahahahahahahahaha!

    • Badshitzoo July 27, 2018 at 10:22 am

      Amen to that brother; but it’s much worse than just that. If you can’t buy it, sell it, or get it to work for minimum wage; they don’t care about it at all. On the bright side, it takes most people less than a year of living here to realize, that this is not a very nice place to live. It’s either too hot, too cold, and always too windy year around, to be planning anything outside; and when a beautiful day does come around, just the intensity of the Sun alone in our zero humidity atmosphere, is enough to burn you in 20 min. There is no UV protection whatsoever here! Just try looking at the sun for a few seconds, you can’t even with high quality sunglasses. It seems like an outdoors man’s paradise at first, but it’s really just a hot & dirty pigsty with some expensive housing lipstick applied. Housing that few that live & work here will ever be able to afford. I’m going back to Cali just as soon as I sell the six over priced homes I inherited.

      • DB July 27, 2018 at 3:02 pm

        In this market, you should be able to sell those six INHERITED homes quickly and buy a modest condo and a gallon of gas in Cali, unless you’re considering somewhere like Bakersfield. Oh wait, it will be 107 there today. Never mind.

        • Badshitzoo July 27, 2018 at 7:39 pm

          Welp, I built them 30 years ago, so I guess it’s ok that I inherit them too! Don’t be silly, there’s never been a day in Arroyo Grande when it’s even broke 92, or gone below 55; that doesn’t happen two blocks from the beach. Average price for 5y/o 3BR/2.5Bathroom house $600k 10 y/ago. Today, 850k. Tons of jobs, and even k12 teachers start at 65k w/BS degree. The sun is getting too you! Enjoy your heat & dirt.

          • mesaman July 27, 2018 at 8:40 pm

            That flipped a switch in my memories, BSZ. I lived in San Luis Obispo in the 60s and loved every moment of it; played in a small combo that visited the granges from Atascadero to Oceano. Will love those ranchers and farmers till I die. Caught a 6 lb trout in the pond on the old Camp San Luis Obispo on the opening day of trout season. Cal Poly 6000 students and was still suffering from the loss of their football team in a plane crash, I think the only survivor was the medical doctor that toured with the team. Thanks for the memories.

          • DB July 28, 2018 at 2:51 pm

            ” I’m going back to Cali just as soon as I sell the six over priced homes I inherited.”

            Bye bye.

  • beacon July 27, 2018 at 9:03 am

    The forty-plus year Endangered Species Act may be due for some alteration but from what I’ve heard come out of the mouths of the likes of Congressmen Stewart and Bishop and Senator Mike Lee, they are not the ones to be making the changes. The changes should be made by scientists who understand species issues not just those who are promoting growth at the expense of creatures on this Earth, and although the Fish & Wildlife Service may be integrally involved in these changes, given the political forces under which they are working – or being crushed! – their hands will be tied.

  • Red2Blue July 27, 2018 at 10:01 pm

    Yes lets leave our environmental issues up to the greedy politicians, especially when they are grabbing the land for drilling and stupidly development without care except $!
    http://www.stgeorgeutah.com/news/archive/2018/07/27/apc-epa-seeks-dismissal-of-lawsuit-filed-by-utah-other-states-over-gold-king-mine-spill/#.W1voOehMEac

  • Frank July 27, 2018 at 10:12 pm

    Remove protections for the Socialist Democrat loons.

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