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For the week of November 22 through 28, 2000

Jim Caswell, new Office of Species Conservation director, will soon take his post.

New director blasts decentralized wildlife control

Express Staff Writer

BOISE — In one of his first public appearances, Jim Caswell, newly appointed director of Idaho’s 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.

"I’m 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 governor’s office, is now open, though Caswell won’t take the helm for a few more weeks.

The office’s 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 wildlife issues.

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 in September.

"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, that’s 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 state’s 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 it’s not productive.

"We must manage the land. There’s really no other option. Preservation is not an option. Conservation is."

Caswell said the public relations aspect to the new office concerns him. It’s an activity that could potentially occupy all of the new office’s time and resources.

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 they’re listed, we’re 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 Idaho’s environmental circles, and for Blaine County legislators, the office is not as cut and dried as Caswell’s 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 won’t have much influence.

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 Idaho’s politicians disagreed with Fish and Game’s assessment.

Responding to a similarly oriented question, Caswell told those at the conference, "I have no intentions of trumping Fish and Game. I’m not trumping anybody."

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 issues.

Idaho Conservation League (ICL) conservation associate Dallas Gudgell responded this winter to the bill’s passage by saying the office "looks like a cash cow for the governor’s office to fight [endangered species] listings. The governor has repeatedly stated his policy on listings. He’s ‘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 review.

"The Legislature’s final say really is the final say," he said.


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