Elk NetworkRMEF Plugs Conservation on Capitol Hill

General | September 21, 2023

RMEF Chief Conservation Officer Blake Henning (left) meets with Senator Steve Daines (R-MT), a member of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee

Conservation, elk, hunting, active forest management, public access, predator and endangered species management are a few of many topics that representatives of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation recently took to Washington DC.

As a titanium sponsor of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, the largest bipartisan and bicameral caucus in Congress, RMEF attends the group’s annual banquet and auction, and discusses top mission priorities while giving testimony and participating in numerous meetings with lawmakers.

“The Elk Foundation supports efforts to recover endangered and threatened wildlife and their critical habitats,” Ryan Bronson, RMEF director of government affairs, testified (go to 15:05) before the Congressional Western Caucus and the House Natural Resources Committee’s Joint ESA Working Group. “Our concerns are mostly focused on how the ESA (Endangered Species Act) has been manipulated to prevent management of large swaths of our public lands by litigious special interests, and how difficult it has been to get recovered species off the list and fully into the authority of state wildlife agencies.”

Bronson stated RMEF’s top federal policy priority is fixing the 2015 Cottonwood Environmental Law Center v U.S. Forest Service decision in the 9th Circuit Court, which triggered a major step backwards for forest management, wildlife and habitat.

“This interpretation by the court requires federal land agencies to re-consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service whenever new information about a listed species or their habitat becomes available. This creates an endless review loop and has led to hundreds of projects being delayed, and in several cases, those delays led to catastrophic habitat loss due to wildfire,” said Bronson.

Bronson also cited a 2021 Bugle magazine article that shined a spotlight on how well-healed nonprofit organizations use the Equal Access to Justice Act to thwart wildlife and forest management, while lining their pockets with millions of dollars in attorney fees.

“The Endangered Species Act should not be used to keep states from managing their wildlife just because special interests don’t like specific nuances in the way that they do it. That seems to be the motivation for keeping wolves in the Great Lakes and grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem listed. The states have worked to meet the five factors of the ESA delisting, and management should return to the states,” added Bronson.

Other RMEF legislative topics of discussion included strengthening the conservation title in the upcoming Farm Bill by including a Forest Conservation Easement Program, and reauthorizing support for state walk-in access programs, and fixing the ‘Bipartisan Safer Communities Act’ which has been recently used by the Department of Education to restrict funding to schools with archery and hunter education programs.

RMEF enjoys bipartisan support for its agenda, which is critical with a divided Congress. In addition to meeting with Republicans and Democrats on natural resources, agriculture and appropriations committees, RMEF met with the Biden administration’s Department of Agriculture undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation to discuss the Wyoming Big Game Partnership pilot and the Working Lands for Wildlife Initiative.

(Photo credit: Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation)