Elko, Nevada: Commissioners offer own ideas for species act

Elko Daily Free Press

August 8, 2002

EUREKA -- Eureka County commissioners agreed Tuesday to send a letter to the House Resource Committee with recommendations to improve the Endangered Species Act.

The letter in response to the congressional hearing in Elko late last month on the bull trout and Endangered Species Act suggests the government require petitions for listings to include a "framework for species recovery."

Commission Chairman Pete Goicoechea said that after listening to the witnesses at the Elko hearing, where he said it was clear the Nevada Division of Wildlife didn't believe the bull trout should have been listed, he believed the petitioner should be responsible for the recovery plan.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service went ahead with the endangered species listing and later downgraded it to threatened species.

The bull trout in question is at Jarbidge, where Elko County and the federal government locked horns over South Canyon Road and the bull trout.

"Let's make the petitioner responsible," Goicoechea said. "We will see a lot more dialogue."

The draft letter states that "early dialogue about species recovery will prompt affected parties to evaluate the feasibility of ESA listing before arbitration by the FWS."

The letter to Rep. James Hansen, R-Utah, who chairs the House Resource Committee, states that the recovery assessment would also create a better understanding of species recovery needs, offer more opportunities for proactive measures and mean a "less litigious role for FWS."

The committee held the hearing to gather testimony on the bull trout listing as it considers what might be done to amend the Endangered Species Act.

Elko County commissioners earlier accused Fish and Wildlife Service of abusing the act when it listed the bull trout, alleging the agency did so to stop work on South Canyon Road.

The board also concurred Tuesday with Goicoechea's recommendations to the Nevada Legislature's Committee on Public Lands for a proposed bill to clarify state policy regarding stockwatering rights in light of a Nevada Supreme Court ruling against the state.

Goicoechea, who is on the Public Lands Committee, is proposing wording changes to make it clearer what the state means regarding stockwatering rights.

Nevada lost its battle in the Nevada Supreme Court over the state law that was supposed to prohibit federal agencies from holding sole stockwatering rights on public lands.

Goicoechea wants to the bill to specify that those legally entitled to stockwatering permits "must have a grazing permit to place the livestock on the public grazing lands for which the water permit is sought."

He also has a few other minor wording recommendations that may be considered when the committee meets at 9 a.m. Aug. 16 at the Elko Convention Center.

U.S. Bureau of Land Management Director Kathleen Clarke said during her visit to Elko last week that BLM wouldn't oppose joint water rights permits with ranchers on public lands.

Bill drafts have included the joint ownership, but critics say it doesn't provide for a rancher to hold lone water rights, either.

In other action Tuesday, the commissioners decided they needed more information from the Nevada Attorney General's Office before voting on whether to join the state's main lawsuit against the federal government over Yucca Mountain.

Law intern Billy Addelman told the board Marta Adams, the deputy attorney general, was initially "excited" about the county joining the lawsuit but in a later call was interested in Eureka County filing an amicus brief, or friendly brief, on the lawsuit, rather than joining the suit.

The state is planning court fights against establishment of a nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain in southern Nevada in the wake of congressional approval of Yucca Mountain.

Goicoechea recommended to his fellow commissioners that after his term ends in January, they continue to stay focused on Yucca Mountain because it looks probable that nuclear waste would be shipped by rail, and 14 miles of that shipment would be through Eureka County.

Also, there would be a spur site at Beowawe, according to one proposal.

"It would have a tremendous impact on this county," he said.

Also Tuesday, the commission agreed to draft an ordinance that would give senior center directors Millie Oram and Adell Panning responsibility for handling indigent assistance programs, although the county clerk's office would continue to be responsible for large medical bills for indigents.

County Clerk Mary Jo Castagna said she felt there was a need to centralize the indigent program "so paperwork doesn't get lost in the shuffle."

She originally proposed that the total program be put under the senior center directors in Eureka and Crescent Valley, but Goicoechea said he wanted the clerk's office to remain responsible as current code requires when large sums of money are involved.

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