Affected parties include the City of Prineville, which is completing a Habitat Conservation Plan

by: LON AUSTIN - The Crooked River is inhabited by endangered steelhead, which were reintroduced into the river. The City of Prineville is working to gain protection from penalties associated with accidental take of the species.

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden has joined 42 other members of Congress in urging federal agencies to provide more time for public input regarding proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act.

In May, the Obama Administration proposed new ESA rules with regards to defining critical habitat lands. The proposal would allow for the expansion of critical habitat definitions as well as limiting activities that would be considered adverse to those habitats.

The definition of “critical” would also allow for the designation of lands as “critical” that had never been previously occupied by an endangered species but believed necessary to its recovery over time.

Walden and the other letter co-signers feel more time is needed for those potentially impacted by the rule changes to formulate comments and objections. The comment period is currently set to expire on July 11, having allowed 60 days for public responses.

“The Endangered Species Act has already severely impacted rural communities throughout the West and now the Obama Administration is proposing to further expand their authority under the ESA with little time for public input,” Walden said. “Sixty days is simply not enough time for the public to read, understand, and comment on these proposals that would make sweeping changes to how the ESA is implemented on the ground. The administration must give rural citizens as much time as possible to explain how these new rules could affect Oregon farms, ranches and communities.”

The point of contention for Walden and others who signed the letter refers to an apparent deviation from a typical 90- to 120-day comment period typically granted other changes of equal importance.

Sent to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator Kathryn Sullivan, the letter requests that “the comment period be extended by at least six months.”

As a participant in Crook County’s habitat conservation plan, Prineville Mayor Betty Roppe agrees with the intent of the letter.

“Our conservation plan authors, and many others, would like to have an extension,” she said. “We do indeed hope there will be an extended comment period."

Roppe added that she feels that the Fish and Wildlife’s economic impact study regarding the status of the Spotted Frog in the Deschutes River Basin resulted in an unrealistically low figure.

“The conservation plan feels that it would have a larger adverse impact with the potential to impact the water that is held behind the dam,” said Roppe, adding that more time is needed to arrive at proper figures.

In his press release, Walden made note of the economic impact resulting from naming critical habitats for the northern spotted owl, saying “… designations have already led to federal timber harvests dropping by more than 90 percent in the last 30 years.”

In Central Oregon, the sage grouse is currently a candidate species under the ESA. Ranchers across Eastern Oregon are working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to implement techniques protecting the sage grouse, hopefully avoiding the necessity of it being listed as endangered.

Harney County rancher Tom Sharp forged an agreement with Fish and Wildlife to reduce threats to the sage grouse’s habitat by removing cheatgrass and juniper trees, protecting nesting grounds and installing escape ramps for birds in stock tanks.

The congressional letter ended by stating reiterating their disappointment that a 60-day comment period was implemented, given the importance of the changes.

“We are surprised and disappointed that the FWS and NOAA would seek to finalize multiple rule changes without more advance notice to Congress, along with insufficient time for affected stockholders to provide meaningful input.”

To read the complete press release from Greg Walden’s office, visit There is also a link to the letter signed by Walden and others.

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