In an earlier report, KREX 5 News examined the role the Endangered Species Act played in potentially moving two native endangered Colorado fish to the threatened list. The Act, written in 1973, has been the subject of political scrutiny lately.
Dale Ryden is one of many people working to save the native endangered fish living in the Colorado River. “The Endangered Species Act came about to make sure we weren’t losing those animals, because people began to realize that animals don’t exist in a vacuum, they’re part of a bigger web of life, and when you lose those strands out of that web you really never know when that web’s going to crash,” said Ryden, a project leader at the Grand Junction Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office.
The Endangered Species Act could be changed, if a series of nine bills proposed by the Congressional Western Caucus passes. Four of the bills have been approved by the House Committee on Natural Resources. The bills have several different ways of changing the Endangered Species Act, including giving greater involvement to state and local governments when it comes to listing a species and an emphasis on transparency. To read about all nine bills, click here. “These bills are meant to be incremental and to start to get at some of that problem, but they’re not going to solve everything,” said Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance.
However, Sarah McCarthy of Conservation Colorado views these bills in a different way. “Despite it’s effectiveness and it’s popularity, unfortunately today the Endangered Species Act is under threat,” said McCarthy, a West Slope Field Manager for Conservation Colorado.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported the Endangered Species Act has prevented more than 99% of the species listed from going extinct. Sgamma calls the statistic “a very positive spin on numbers. Another way to look at those numbers is species’ languish on the Endangered Species Act,” said Sgamma.
When asked about the Endangered Species Act, one of our Mesa County Commissioners said the list can sometimes be overwhelming. “We don’t want to see species go extinct any more than anybody else, but you’ve got to have a balance between ‘is a species really, truly endangered?’ Or, is it just somebody picked out an animal to make a career or a crusade out of ‘protect this or protect that.’ And we certainly don’t want to see endangered species just disappear because we sit here idly doing nothing, that’s not how we operate,” said the Chair of the Mesa County Commissioners, John Justman.
Those with the Western Energy Alliance said there’s often more time and energy spent on litigation and paperwork than on species recovery when it comes to the Endangered Species Act. “Continue on with an ESA that doesn’t work in many cases, isn’t conserving species as well as it could, and is killing people’s livelihoods needlessly without delivering real conservation,” said Sgamma.
McCarthy argued the proposed bills are backed mainly by energy or logging industries. “Small group of powerful industries are supporting the weakening of the Endangered Species Act, in order to deepen their wallets,” said McCarthy.
McCarthy also said it makes her think about future generations. “I want to be able to point out at the trees and say, ‘hey, there’s a Bald Eagle.’ And if the Endangered Species Act is weakened, it would be less likely that we would be able to see and experience wildlife and plants like that,” said McCarthy.
The Colorado Petroleum Council said the current Endangered Species Act can hinder landowners hoping to productively use their land. “We’ve been calling for an updated reform of the Endangered Species Act for a very, very long time. We strongly believe that the Endangered Species Act is being used and manipulated to prevent, or certainly significantly stall, oil and gas projects. And it’s not specific to oil and gas, we’re seeing it happen in other sectors like agriculture as well,” said Tracee Bentley, the executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Council.
Those with the local Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office said their efforts have not affected water development. “Since the recovery program has been around, there hasn’t been one water project that’s been denied and not one drop of water that hasn’t been allowed to be developed in the Colorado River,” said Ryden.
The four bills have been approved by the House Committee on Natural Resources, and would still have to be passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate.