Test results should help protect farms, ranches from unnecessary regulation
Genetic testing of the so-called White Bluffs Bladderpod has proven the plant is not a separate sub-species requiring protection under the Endangered Species Act.
The DNA test results were announced this afternoon by the Franklin County Natural Resources Advisory Committee at a press conference in Pasco, Wash.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, part of the Department of Interior claims the plant is a unique and threatened variety of the Bladderpod plant family. The agency is pushing to declare critical habitat status for hundreds acres of public and private land in western Franklin County.
Franklin County officials have been working with county residents to challenge the USFWS claims. Efforts to list the plant have been slowed by county pressure to extend the public comment period, buying time for scientific testing they believe USFWS should have done up front.
“It is inexcusable that U.S. Fish & Wildlife would budget more than $600,000 to protect this allegedly unique plant, without bothering to spend $5,000 to conduct even basic DNA testing up front. It certainly suggests they are more interested in appeasing litigious environmental groups than applying the best available science as required under federal law,” said Brad Peck, Franklin County Commissioner.
Certified Agronomist Stuart Turner of West Richland, Wash. reported the DNA results citing data that show 100 percent certainty that the alleged White Bluffs Bladderpod is the same specie as other well known Bladderpods in other geographic areas.
“Our samples were collected under a federal permit and the tests were conducted by the Laboratory for Evolutionary, Ecological, and Conservation Genetics at the University of Idaho, a nationally recognize facility for such testing,” said Turner. “This represents best available science as required under the law. We will insist that USFWS consider these test results in any analysis they undertake. If they do that – and the law requires them to do so – this issue is over.”
Toni Meacham of the Washington Agricultural Legal Foundation described the U.S. Fish & Wildlife actions as an abusive overreach of federal powers under the Endangered Species Act. “The law clearly requires them to apply the best available science. In fact their boss, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, committed to that standard in Congressional testimony as recently as last week,” said Meacham. “This DNA evidence calls into question more than a hundred other listings of supposedly unique bladderpod sub-species. Each of those listings came with impacts on public and private lands that may have been entirely unnecessary, not to mention very costly to taxpayers. DNA testing is affordable and highly reliable. Unless and until something better comes along, this needs to be the minimum standard for such actions,” Meacham said.
Kent McMullen, chairman of the citizen run county Natural Resources Advisory Committee and a local farmer emphasized that local landowners are excellent stewards of the land. “Many of our farmers have worked these lands for generations. Our livelihoods depend upon us caring for the land. We have a long history of working with responsible government and private interests to protect our environment,” he said. “Unfortunately, actions like Fish & Wildlife’s efforts to list this common bladderpod plant do great harm to the cooperative relationship we’ve enjoyed with state and federal regulators over the years. It’s gotten to the point where we practically have to threaten a lawsuit just to get them to follow the law,” McMullen said.
The Natural Resources Advisory Committee is waiting to hear from U.S. Fish & Wildlife on the DNA test results. Commissioner Brad Peck said the county has not ruled out the possibility of a lawsuit against the agency. “We will share the DNA results with Fish & Wildlife. At that point it will be up to them. Our hope is they respect the science and follow the law. If they do so, we can move on to other issues and challenges. Regardless, we will be watching closely from here on to ensure these decisions are based on sound science; not politics, secret settlements with environmental groups, or any other inappropriate basis.”