« Return to this article

Know the West

Endangered Species Act dissed on street ...


Protesters sporting bright yellow "Stop the War on the West" T-shirts swarmed the blistering streets of Ronan, Mont., July 23. Their target: the Endangered Species Act reauthorization bill introduced in Congress by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. Baucus brought the only Western hearing on the bill to the isolated town, pop. 1,500, where an estimated 400 demonstrators marched through otherwise deserted streets at 8 a.m.

The protest, sponsored by organizations such as Putting People First, the Abundant Wildlife Society of North America, the United Four-Wheel Drive Association, the Montana Stockgrowers, and Montanans for Multiple Use, featured an "ESA victims' rally.

Richard Christy Sr. was one such "victim" who shot a grizzly bear that he says attacked his flock of sheep. He told the crowd he was later fined $3,000 for killing an endangered animal and spent an additional $60,000 in legal fees appealing his case to the Supreme Court. Christy said that his flock is now threatened by wolves and he didn't know what to do. The crowd advised: "Shoot, shovel and shut up!"

Meanwhile, around the corner of the high school building, about 200 supporters of the act rallied to applaud its successes, such as the recovery of the bald eagle, the peregrine falcon and the gray wolf.

The opposing sides settled into facing bleachers in the high school gym to hear invited testimony on such topics as the status of salmon, bull trout and grizzly bear protection. Conservationists typically favored the act and proposed revisions, but were frequently critical of federal agencies for inaction on behalf of threatened and endangered species.

The bill would:

* take an ecosystems approach to protecting endangered and candidate species (those in trouble but not yet endangered);

* require federal agencies to conserve candidate species ;

* set deadlines for recovery plans, allowing peer review by non-agency scientists;

* increase federal cooperation with states in developing recovery plans; and provide financial incentives to private landowners.

Opponents of the bill stress private property rights and want:

* socio-economic factors considered before a species is listed;

* individuals granted the right to control endangered species threatening their livelihoods; and

* limits on duration and cost of recovery plans.

Marga Lincoln is a writer in Missoula, Montana.