- Associated Press - Thursday, November 12, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Imperiled plants and animals have had an unacceptably low rate of recovery and removal from Endangered Species Act protections, Gov. Matt Mead said in calling for reforms to the law.

Only 30 of some 2,200 species the federal government has listed as threatened or endangered since the act’s establishment in 1973 have been delisted because they have recovered, Mead said at the outset of a two-day workshop in Cody on reforming the law.

“We need better than a 1 percent success rate,” Mead said. “It’s critical in the West to get this right.”

Mead has made reforming the act a priority of his yearlong term as chairman of the Western Governors’ Association. The association hosted the meeting in Cody.

Wyoming officials and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agree that some animals that remain protected under the act, such as grizzly bears and Wyoming’s wolf population, have recovered, Mead said.

Fish and Wildlife removed grizzlies from protection as a threatened species in 2007 but a judge restored that protection in 2009. Last year, a judge found that Wyoming’s plan to manage wolves was insufficient and put them back on the endangered list.

“This is what we face with the Endangered Species Act,” Mead said.

The act often generates costly lawsuits that do little if anything to help species, he said.

Other species such as the black-footed ferret and greater sage grouse are examples of the good that can happen when property owners and government work together to help protect species and their habitat, he said.

Hundreds of black-footed ferrets have been raised in captivity and released in the wild since they were on the brink of extinction in the 1980s.

Recently Fish and Wildlife announced a rule throughout Wyoming that will indemnify landowners who allow black-footed ferrets to be reintroduced on their property against any accidental harm to ferrets. The idea is to make landowners more comfortable with having an endangered species on their land.

In September, Fish and Wildlife announced that the greater sage grouse, after a more than 5-year effort to protect sagebrush habitat in 11 states where the ground-dwelling birds live, didn’t warrant protection under the act.

“We need good news stories and we need it not only so we can provide predictability for business and industry, we need it for species,” Mead said.

The Obama administration is on track to remove more species from protection under the act than all previous administrations combined, said Fish and Wildlife Service Assistant Director Gary Frazer, who also addressed the workshop.

Discussions in Washington, D.C., about endangered species tend to be partisan and not very productive, he said.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service certainly doesn’t have all the answers,” Frazer said. “We welcome this initiative.”

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