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Wyoming governor: Let states, not courts, help endangered species

Wyoming governor: Let states, not courts, help endangered species

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CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act would do more to help imperiled species recover rather than keep them under federal protection indefinitely, Wyoming's governor testified before a U.S. Senate committee Wednesday.

A bill introduced by Wyoming Republican Sen. John Barrasso last week would give state officials including state wildlife agencies more oversight of threatened and endangered species.

Changes would include putting more emphasis on planning to help species recover so they can be removed from the endangered species list and prioritizing federal funding to states for such efforts. The bill would prohibit court challenges to delisting decisions for five years.

The five-year limit would provide time to see if species recovery plans work, Gov. Mark Gordon, a Republican, told a live-streamed hearing of the Senate Committee On Environment and Public Works in Washington, D.C.

Right now, litigation puts listing decisions in courts rather than letting science decide, Gordon told the committee.

"Rather than focusing on actual results, courts are asked to speculate on what-ifs, which leads to a vicious cycle," Gordon testified.

Gordon is the third consecutive Wyoming governor to testify in support of changing the Endangered Species Act to give states a bigger role in overseeing species such as the Yellowstone region's wolves and grizzly bears. The U.S. government has said both are fully recovered.

Both have also been the subject of years of litigation and on-and-off federal protections.

A court in 2017 removed Wyoming's wolves from federal protection. The Yellowstone region's grizzlies, however, remain protected under the act following a 2018 court ruling.

Wyoming spends about $2 million a year on grizzly bear management and gets only $100,000 in federal funding for those efforts, Gordon testified.

Skeptics of the bill's emphasis on state compared to federal oversight of threatened and endangered species included Democratic Sen. Tom Carper, of Delaware.

"Species typically only require endangered species management protection when state management has failed," Carper said. "I still struggle to fully understand how this bill would help to support species recovery."

Republicans for years have sought to change the Endangered Species Act to make it friendlier to business and agriculture interests. The bill's prospects will likely depend on the Nov. 3 election and which party controls Congress and the White House in 2021.

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