Jim Caswell, new Office of Species Conservation director, will soon
take his post.
New director blasts decentralized wildlife control
By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer
BOISE In one of his first public appearances, Jim Caswell, newly
appointed director of Idahos Office of Species Conservation, told a group of Idaho
water managers Thursday that federalization of wildlife policy making is an obstacle to
successful wildlife management.
"Im relatively frustrated about resource management over the
past eight years," he said. "Local decision making is key."
The Office of Species Conservation grew from a bill passed by the Idaho
Legislature last winter. The office, an extension of the governors office, is now
open, though Caswell wont take the helm for a few more weeks.
The offices purpose, Caswell said, is to develop state recovery
plans for species newly removed from the federal "endangered" list in Idaho and
to allow the state to "speak with one voice" to the federal government on
It would also be a place for those dealing with the effects of endangered
species management to voice their concerns.
Previously supervisor of the Clearwater National Forest in northern Idaho
for eight years, Caswell was appointed director of the new office by Gov. Dirk Kempthorne
"The ESA (Endangered Species Act) is probably the most powerful
environmental law in the land," Caswell told those attending a two-day Idaho Water
Users Association conference. "The feds have a huge role to play here. They do have a
trump card. For someone like me, thats tough to take."
Caswell, acknowledging it remains to be seen whether the fledgling office
will work as designed, said it is the first step toward the states being able to
bring all its agencies together under one umbrella on wildlife issues.
"There are solutions to these issues," he said. "Fighting
about all these things is kind of fun, but its not productive.
"We must manage the land. Theres really no other option.
Preservation is not an option. Conservation is."
Caswell said the public relations aspect to the new office concerns him.
Its an activity that could potentially occupy all of the new offices time and
Imminent wildlife issues include gray wolf recovery, four species of
listed snails that Caswell said are ready for delisting, recent lynx listing, and grizzly
bear reintroduction to the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area. The new office will fight
the grizzly reintroduction, he said.
Because of the power of the ESA, however, dealing with already listed
species will be difficult, he said.
"The best place the state can be in terms of influencing its own
destiny is working on candidate species, and there are a ton of them," he said.
"Once theyre listed, were not in control."
The bill that created the Office of Species Conservation does not
authorize working on non-listed species, but Caswell said he hopes a bill will be passed
in the coming legislative session that allows such work.
Among Idahos environmental circles, and for Blaine County
legislators, the office is not as cut and dried as Caswells comments may indicate.
Idaho Sen. Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, has blasted the office, saying it
will eliminate otherwise healthy dialogue between state agencies and citizens on wildlife
issues. It is also a waste of taxpayer money, he said, because listed species fall under
the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by law. The state wont have
Stennett charged during a recent political forum that the office was
created, in part, because the Idaho Department of Fish and Game publicly supported
breaching the four lower Snake River dams as the most effective means of returning healthy
salmon runs to Idaho.
Most of Idahos politicians disagreed with Fish and Games
Responding to a similarly oriented question, Caswell told those at the
conference, "I have no intentions of trumping Fish and Game. Im not trumping
Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, said she views the office as an attempt to
politicize issues that are primarily biological and to empower the state on federal
Idaho Conservation League (ICL) conservation associate Dallas Gudgell
responded this winter to the bills passage by saying the office "looks like a
cash cow for the governors office to fight [endangered species] listings. The
governor has repeatedly stated his policy on listings. Hes No, no, no.
Gudgell logged hours at the state capitol last winter lobbying on behalf
of the ICL against the bill that created the office.
He said the bill (now law) is flawed because it gives the Legislature
final authorship of conservation plans and does not subject those plans to judicial
"The Legislatures final say really is the final say," he