By Representative Stevan Pearce
Like all Americans, I want to protect wildlife in both good and bad times. Gifford Pinchot, the first Chief of the US Forest Service once said, "Conservation means the wise use of the earth and its resources for the lasting good of men." I concur wholeheartedly. Mr. Pinchot was one of the most publicly known conservationists of the 20th century, and recognized that to have healthy forests controlled thinning operations must take place. He believed as I do that conservation should never mean tying our hands to economic development or good stewardship of our lands, but instead should be about finding a balance between jobs and resource protection.
I have always advocated balance, which is why I support the cooperative efforts between private stakeholders, federal officials and local governments through the Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA), which allows private landholders to enroll their land and money in a program designed to protect the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard without listing it. This is a reasonable approach that will serve New Mexico well by protecting our environment and our economy simultaneously. Of course, common sense is usually in short order when it comes to DC lawyers and lobbyists with their hands on taxpayer dollars.
As Congress moves forward in the appropriations process, various special interests often state that while they understand that we are in tough times, their specific program is just too important to face any sort of belt tightening.
My efforts to cultivate cooperation and common sense conservation of the lizard are based on sound science. Earlier this year, a study conducted by the Range Improvement Task Force at New Mexico State determined that much of the data used as evidence for a listing of the lizard is "not scientifically defensible."
Another study by Texas Tech University stated that uncertainties related to the effects of oil and gas exploration on the lizard's population "preclude an accurate assessment of risks, and therefore prevent management decisions that could optimize both species protection and economic production." I take the word of scientists at world-class research universities over DC-based special interest groups.
Even our two distinguished Senators, with whom I frequently disagree on issues like this, submitted a letter to the US Fish and Wildlife Service requesting more time for scientific data to be gathered. Last week, Dan Ashe, the Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, announced that he is delaying a decision on the listing because the growing body of scientific evidence questions the necessity of a listing.
One of the major problems with the current system is that its success rate is quite low. Only about 1% of all species ever listed have reached their recovery goals. That is simply unacceptable. Even when species reach their recovery goals, many times environmental groups will sue to keep them listed, costing taxpayers millions in continuing unnecessary programs and legal costs. The best way to improve and modernize the current system is to bring all parties to the table to work on voluntary, science-based solutions that do not put jobs at risk.
Washington has ignored the considerable conservation efforts already taking place in New Mexico that strike a balance between economic growth and species protection. As of last week, some $2.5 million in private funds and 2.3 million acres of land have been enrolled in the CCAA designed to protect the lizard and the Lesser Prairie Chicken. This partnership includes oil and gas leases, ranches, state authorities and the federal government. The Endangered Species Act states very plainly that "the Secretary shall cooperate to the maximum extent practicable with the States." This is exactly what is happening in New Mexico with the CCAA.
In August of this year, Mr. Ashe said, "Ensuring the survival of imperiled species depends on long-term partnerships and landowner participation." The Bureau of Land Management's New Mexico office and the US Department of Agriculture's Natural Resource Conservation Service submitted public comments opposing the listing because current, good faith conservation efforts are working. I am not willing to stand idly by, while Washington lawyers and lobbyists pursue a rush to judgment that will destroy thousands of jobs and undermine the cooperative efforts that are working so well. And I am glad to see others in the federal government taking a stand, and giving more control to state and local wildlife agencies for proper stewardship.
Taxpayer subsidized lawsuits
The reality is that special interests are getting an actual subsidy--to settle out of court after suing federal agencies into submission. These settlements for legal fees often come at the rate $350-650 an hour. This subsidy kills jobs, and keeps real scientists and public policy specialists from finding the right solutions to our problems. This sort of lawyer welfare is not sound economic policy, and will not pay back a dime of our $15 trillion in debt. To make matters worse, federal agencies do not even keep track of how much money they pay out to these shady special interest groups, but the only available research shows that it is somewhere in the millions of dollars annually. We deserve better.
Our country is in the midst of a fiscal and economic crisis we have not seen in over 70 years. I will continue to fight for reasonable solutions that protect the environment, protect species and protect workers, but do not hamstring our economy. There is no recovery for an extinct species, so we must find the right solutions, and incorporate local stakeholders into conservation management. We know what works and what does not, and no matter how many special interests attack me, I will not stop doing what is right for New Mexico.