Wyoming has long been known for our open spaces and abundant wildlife. But a new legacy for the Cowboy State may be on the horizon, thanks to a unique bird and a determined governor.
The Endangered Species Act has been integral in saving multiple species from extinction, including the bald eagle, the symbol of our democracy.
Now, multiple efforts are underway to reform the bedrock conservation law. And Wyoming is at the center of one of them.
Proposed changes to the law – which come in the form of a draft bill authored by U.S. Sen. John Barrasso – are inspired by the success Wyoming has had managing the greater sage grouse, an imperiled bird that faced an endangered species listing as a result of diminishing habitat.
Under the leadership of Gov. Matt Mead, sage grouse management became a collaborative effort, which united ordinarily opposing interests — energy developers, ranchers and environmentalists – who all shared a common desire to keep the bird from requiring a federal listing. The unlikely bedfellows found balance in addressing sage grouse management without the need of costly and time-consuming lawsuits.
And thanks to efforts by Mead, the grouse management plans largely avoided federal upheaval by Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke, whose proposed changes to the plans threatened to undermine the collaborative efforts that made them successful.
In the end, Wyoming knew best.
And Mead and Barrasso say there is value in replicating the Wyoming approach on a national scale.
While there are many conservationists who still balk at the idea of changing the endangered species law, the effort has bipartisan support, including from the Environmental Defense Fund and the Audubon Society.
In a highly divided political climate, collaborative approaches to controversial issues should be lauded.
The Endangered Species Act is viewed by many as an undue regulatory burden, and Mead’s plan isn’t the only effort to overhaul the decades-old legislation. Attempts to scrap or amend the law have failed repeatedly over the years, but under the current administration and its anti-regulation agenda, the law could be at risk.
Which is why the bipartisan approach espoused by Mead and Barrasso should be given a chance.
For Wyoming, successful sage grouse management depended on collaboration. Though oilmen and environmentalists are fundamentally divided, they can be united by common interests – endangered species listings aren’t good for anyone.
Inhibiting energy development comes at a cost to our statewide economy and the many families who depend on mineral extraction to survive. But endangered species listings can be just as detrimental to those industries. Protecting the species and the habitats helps everyone.
Mead’s proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act would allow more state input in addressing management of imperiled species and their habitats. This approach worked in Wyoming; it could be successful across the nation.
Governor Mead’s efforts in sage grouse management will be his lasting legacy. And his efforts to share that model with the rest of the country can be Wyoming’s.
Next year, Wyoming will have a new governor. We hope that our future leader will learn from Mead’s example. In the meantime, if Congress decides to reform the Endangered Species Act, it should pursue the Wyoming approach.