WASHINGTON — Colorado property owners affected by a federal proposal to list the sage grouse as an endangered species should be compensated for the loss of their ability to earn a living from the land, Rep. Scott Tipton said Thursday.
The Colorado Republican asked Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Director Dan Ashe at a House hearing if the federal government planned to compensate those who would no longer be able to raise crops or cattle on property claimed for the bird’s critical habitat.
“No,” Ashe replied sharply.
The proposed map of the listing and bird’s wide-ranging territory over two million acres of Colorado and parts of Utah would put public and private lands off limits to most use or development including crops and livestock grazing, if it is given protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
“These are families that are worried about their future,” Tipton said. “You just told me the federal government isn’t going to give one bit of compensation if they are hurting people’s businesses, their ability to be able to put food on their tables.”
Don’t we need to take another look at this and some of the implementation?”
“Do you see a problem with that?” Tipton said.
Ashe told the committee that the Obama administration is following the law, and if Congress wants private property owners compensated, that would have to be written into law as well.
“All of us Americans are required to comply with the law,” Ashe said.
But the law being implemented by the Interior Department agency is actually part of a “mega settlement” from lawsuits filed by environmentalists to list nearly 780 species as endangered by 2016, a settlement that critics say was finalized behind closed doors and with the use of questionable data.
The House Resources Committee hearing was called to examine the transparency of the science of those decisions and how it will affect humans, particularly those who own or use the land.
“The Obama administration publicly touts that it is the most transparent in history,” said Rep. Doc Hastings, Washington Republican and committee chairman.
“However, it’s ESA-related actions—through executive orders, court settlements with litigious groups, and rules to list species—instead force regulatory actions that shut out Congress, states, local communities, private landowners—even scientists who may dispute the often sketchy or unverifiable data used for these decisions,” Hastings said.
Rob Roy Ramey, an independent scientist from Nederland, Colo., told the panel that the court settlements had created a “bio-blitzkrieg” of ESA listings that is doing a disservice to bona-fide conservation efforts.
“Every time another species is added to the list of threatened and endangered species, or a new deadline is imposed by litigants, the resources to recover species becomes more thinly spread,” Ramey said.
“Throwing more money at the problem is not the solution, nor is allowing decision making by fiat,” Ramey said.
“The solution is to ensure that the scientific evaluations are done properly the first time, and that means relying upon data and objective application of the scientific method, as required by the ESA,” Ramey said.
Ramey listed a myriad of scientific errors or emissions with listings involving the grouse as well as other contentious decisions involving the Prebles meadow jumping mouse, desert bighorn sheep, and delta smelt among others, including mathematical errors, missing data, errors of omission, biased sampling, undocumented methods, inaccurate mapping, fabricated data substituted for missing data, or no data at all.
“Clearly, the agency’s scientific peer review process that should have caught these errors is not as effective as it is portrayed to be,” Ramey said.
Although the mega settlements were intended to decrease the number of lawsuits forcing hurried deadlines on endangered species listings, Hastings said the same groups have filed or threatened to file an additional 125 lawsuits.
The hearing comes on the heels of a new inspector general report of scientific misconduct at the Fish and Wildlife Service that also revealed whistleblowers were punished for exposing the wrongdoing.
“The failure to take timely and appropriate management action by FWS senior leadership, to include Director Dan Ashe, damages the credibility and integrity of the Department of the Interior and the FWS science program as well as senior leadership,” Acting Inspector General Mary Kendall said in the report.
Ashe told lawmakers that agency scientists are working with “the best information we have available.”