Lots of ruffled feathers and foot-stomping …
By Bob Berwyn
FRISCO — Watching the House Committee on Natural Resources field hearings on greater sage-grouse and the Endangered Species Act was a bit like watching the birds themselves during their magnificent mating ritual — a lot of puffed up rhetoric, ruffled feathers and foot-stomping, but very little substance.
The main take-home message appeared to be that there’s a vast conspiracy of liberal judges, conservation groups and Obama administration officials colluding to destroy the American way of life in the rural West (specifically Montana and Wyoming, where the hearings were held).
That’s probably not surprising, considering the list of witnesses was hand-picked by the committee’s ultra-conservative and anti-environmental GOP leadership, but the inflammatory words used by some of the more extreme committee members still comes as a shock.
Take Colorado Springs-based U.S. Rep Doug Lamborn, who said flat-out that environmental groups practice “psychological warfare” with endangered species lawsuits, or committee chair Doc Hastings, a Washington Republican who seemed to question whether the federal government has any business enforcing the law, which, reflects the will of the people of the U.S. as enacted by Congress.
Hastings also fundamentally questioned the science used to make endangered species listing decisions — as if there’s any question that hundreds of plants and animals are on the brink of disappearing forever. The implication, barely disguised, is that God gave man dominion over plants and animals, and that grasshoppers, wildflowers or birds that stand in the way of a new coal mine have no right to exist.
He even dusted off the old “wreaking havoc” chestnut in a statment:
“Ramped up ESA listings and habitat designations through executive orders and closed-door settlements with litigious groups are wreaking havoc on private landowners, multiple use, agriculture, rural economies, rural timber communities, energy producers, and even states’ own species conservation activities,” Hastings said.
By contrast, the input from some of the state and local representatives called as witnesses was more nuanced, at least paying lip service to the idea that a healthy, sustainable environment are crucial to economic growth.
“I firmly believe that species conservation is a community-driven effort that strives to work with individuals, groups, and agencies to achieve a goal. It is essential that addressing species, such as sage grouse, is a grassroots effort, not a top down approach,” said Lesley Robinson, a county commissioner from Phillips County, Montana.
While Hastings and Lamborn framed the issue in the context of federal versus local control, some of the witnesses acknowledged that conservation efforts are most successful when they spring from collaboration among all different levels of government and stakeholders — and that, at least, is a worthwhile starting point for discussions about endangered species.