With some 1,300 species on nation's 'endangered' list, Western Governor's Assoc.asks for more federal money to develop strategies

Billings Gazette State Bureau


BIG SKY -- The nation's list of endangered species is often a dead end for the animals and plants placed on that list, the country's Western governors said, and Monday these dignitaries called for stronger population recovery programs in the federal Endangered Species Act.

The members of the Western Governors' Association passed two resolutions, asking the federal government to provide more funding for endangered species and to work with states in developing specific strategies needed to move species off the list.

The governors also want the Endangered Species Act to be amended to reflect a more comprehensive, recovery-based philosophy.

Threatened in Montana

Some 1,300 species are on the nation's endangered species list. In Montana, five species are listed as endangered and seven more, including the grizzly bear and the wolf, are listed as threatened.

"There needs to be a great emphasis on recovery," said Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne.

Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico criticized the federal government for not helping states more with their de-listing efforts.

"You need to be more engaged as a federal government," Richardson told Steven Williams, the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at Monday's meeting. "You need to get out here and help us resolve these problems rather than join us in litigation."

Williams said the Bush administration has given states nearly $100 million in new money to deal with the problem: the state's wildlife agency programs got $60 million, private land ownership programs got $40 million and the administration gave $10 million to private stewardship programs, he said.

New money for states

"This is all new money states can use on listed species and to help prevent species from being listed," Williams said.

The problems don't always lie with the listing of a species, Colorado Gov. Bill Owens said. Sometimes, the Endangered Species Act itself is the problem, he said.

"The law doesn't force us to move towards recovery," Owens said.

While Gov. Judy Martz joined the call for species recovery, Montana has long been trying to prevent some species from being listed, said Chris Smith, chief of staff at the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

The black-tailed prairie dog of Eastern Montana is a candidate for the list, state officials said, and the state is doing everything it can -- from restricting hunting on public lands to enhancing its habitat -- to prevent the animal from being listed.

"We're trying to work ahead of the curve," Smith said.

But the roadblocks to delisting species can be many and varied, Smith said. The black-footed ferret and the whooping crane are both endangered in Montana. Their numbers are counted in the tens, Smith said.

But to bring them back will take a long time and a lot of money, he said.

"The Endangered Species Act has been used by those opposed to development to prevent things from happening," Smith said. "But the act hasn't resulted in finding ways to provide habitat development."

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