INTERIOR

FWS chief pitches cooperative conservation and ESA spending limits

Fish and Wildlife Service chief Rowan Gould emphasized carefully targeted investments and spending cuts when making his case for a $1.7 billion fiscal 2012 budget to a House Appropriations subcommittee yesterday.

"The service's highest-priority increases will help us use our resources more efficiently," Gould told the House Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee.

Gould pointed to the service's new Landscape Conservation Cooperatives as a prime example. The new model, which is meant to build partnerships across government agencies and other organizations to develop the best conservation science, will take upfront investment but will bring a big payoff, the FWS chief argued.

In the past, he said, groups with similar goals have often worked at cross purposes. The Landscape Conservation Cooperative program is meant to build the best scientific basis, share it across both government and nongovernmental groups, and then encourage a whole-of-government approach to investments.

Take, for instance, the effort to restore sage grouse in the West. Gould's policy deputy, Daniel Ashe, said that even if current efforts across the bird's 11-state landscape remained funded, they probably would not be enough to achieve the objective.

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"What we need to do is hitch everybody to the same wagon so that we're all working together across that landscape to identify those core areas that are really going to be critical for the persistence of sage grouse on the landscape and then make investments in those areas," Ashe said.

That will take some sacrifice, he admitted. For FWS, it might mean that instead of investing in its own refuges, money would be put toward protecting private landscapes or investing in Bureau of Land Management land.

"The concept requires everybody to give a little, but the idea is you're going to get more than you give," Ashe said.

Capping endangered species petition costs

On the downscaling side of the budget, Gould targeted the swelling costs of responding to Endangered Species Act petitions.

With the number of ESA petitions reaching historic levels, FWS has a backlog that Gould says the service has no hope of working through. Instead, the service's work is driven largely by lawsuits, he said. Moreover, when the service loses a suit -- which he said is rare -- it sometimes has to pay legal fees for the plaintiff.

To help manage the unwieldy number of petitions, the service is asking for Congress to place a cap on the amount of money that can be spent to process petitions. Such a cap would essentially allow the service to argue in court that it had done all it could before running out of money.

"We can only do so much, we can only do as much as the funds appropriated by Congress allow us to do," Gary Frazer, FWS's assistant director for endangered species told the subcommittee. "By having a cap ... we can balance among the various duties that we have."

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