By Mitch Shaw
FARMINGTON -- Utah Rep. Chris Stewart says the Endangered Species Act needs some tweaking, but a national wildlife advocate says the law is fine just the way it is.
Earlier this month, Stewart introduced the Endangered Species Improvement Act of 2014, a bill that would amend the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and require the federal government to count all species dwelling on both public and private lands when determining species recovery.
In a press release, Stewart said he agrees with the fundamental purpose of the Endangered Species Act -- to protect species from extinction -- but says the law as it is now goes beyond that.
"Unfortunately, not all laws are perfect," Stewart said. "And in this case, the interpretation of the law is resulting in inaccurate data collection, potentially preventing healthy and growing species from being removed from the threatened or endangered list."
Stewart cites the Utah prairie dog as an example, saying the species is only counted on federal lands, which results in a gross miscalculation of their total number.
"There are large populations of prairie dogs in yards, parks, cemeteries, and fields that never get counted toward recovery because they don't live on federal lands," Stewart said.
Jay Tutchton, a staff attorney with the non-profit conservation organization Defenders of Wildlife, said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does count endangered species on private lands when the option is available.
"It's called, 'The Best Available Science Standard,'" Tutchton said. "In other words, anything the agency can get its hands on, it counts."
But Tutchton said that counting species on private lands can be problematic because it calls into question private property rights.
"(Requiring species to be counted on private land) assumes all private property owners will be cooperative," he said. "And that's a big assumption."
Tutchton also said counting species can vary wildly depending on things like the time of year and certain weather conditions. He said counting is one of many factors that determines the overall health of a species.
"Counting is not the be all, end all of how a species is doing," he said. "It's one data point."
Stewart's bill has been cosponsored by fellow Republican Utah Reps. Jason Chaffetz and Rob Bishop.
Bishop has been vocal about what he calls flaws in the Endangered Species Act. Earlier this year he said that since its introduction in 1973, "the law has been co-opted by activist special interest groups as a tool to snuff out multiple use of our lands and resources."