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Governors seek species act changes

From staff and wire reports

Ed Andrieski, AP

Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal, left, discusses sagebrush at the Western Governors' Association conference in Breckenridge, Colo., on Monday. Colorado Gov. Bill Owens looks on at right.

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. -- Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal joined governors from other Western states Monday in asking Congress to relax the Endangered Species Act.

The governors want states to be able to combine federal requirements to deal with several species at the same time, among other changes.

"I want to emphasize that we applaud the principles of the Endangered Species Act, but we also have maintained a long-standing interest in improving species recovery efforts by making the process more efficient and by providing more effective incentives for state and private conservation activities," Colorado Gov. Bill Owens said.

The Western Governors' Association has proposed four areas where the Endangered Species Act could be improved to make it more workable and effective:

* Increase the role for states.

* Increase certainty and technical assistance for landowners and water users.

* Increase and stabilize funding for the states.

* Streamline provisions in the act, for example, by providing for statewide, multi-species strategies.

Freudenthal said the governors' proposals have broad-based support, and the association is working with members of Congress to update the law.

"We knew we were on the right track with these recommendations, when our letter to members of Congress garnered the support of Western State Land Commissioners and three very respected environmental groups: the Defenders of Wildlife, Environmental Defense, and the World Wildlife Fund," Freudenthal said. "My colleagues and I heartily affirm the goals of the ESA, but agree that it could stand some targeted reforms -- common-sense changes to make it work better, less confusing, and less litigious."

The governors also established a council to help coordinate local, state and regional plans to help the greater sage grouse, which has been declining in numbers for 20 years. Its habitat is located along 110 million acres over 11 states, including Wyoming.

Environmental groups sought to have the greater sage grouse placed on the federal endangered species list. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rejected the petition in January but said conservation efforts should be continued.

Listing the bird as endangered or threatened could place restrictions on grazing, oil and gas leasing and hunting. Western officials have said cooperation with landowners rather than regulation will help save the birds.

The governors' Sagebrush Conservation Council is intended to help dozens of local working groups across the West develop or complete conservation plans for the sage grouse and coordinate their efforts across political boundaries.

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