By Laura Lundquist
Members of a U.S. House committee heard one side of the Endangered Species Act argument as Montana ranchers and natural resource developers blamed environmental groups and lawsuits for causing controversy.
As the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gets closer to listing the greater sage grouse as endangered, Republican U.S. Congressmen Steve Daines of Bozeman and Kevin Cramer of North Dakota hosted three other GOP members of the House Natural Resources Committee in a panel discussion in Billings on how the listing could affect local economies.
However, little of Wednesday's discussion addressed the potential sage-grouse listing. Instead, many questions posed to the panel by committee members targeted the ESA itself.
None of the panel members spoke in support of the ESA. They criticized previous listings of wildlife such as grizzly bears and wolves and blamed ESA lawsuits for eliminating jobs and causing ranchers to be resistant to voluntarily participating in conservation.
“The grazing plan for the (Upper Missouri Breaks National National) Monument was challenged by Western Watersheds. It was a long agonizing process,” said Montana Farm Bureau Federation spokesman Matt Knox. “Their strategy is to contest every decision. When you're a rancher caught in the middle, it has a dampening effect.”
In addition to Knox, the invited panel commenters included Dave Galt, executive director of the Montana Petroleum Association; Phillips County Commissioner Lesley Robinson; Brian Cebull, president of the Montana Chapter of Safari Club International; Channis Whiteman, Crow tribal member and equipment operator for Cloud Peak Energy; and Kerry White, executive director of Citizens for Balanced Use. More....