A Personal Perspective of the Endangered Species Act for its 50th Anniversary, National Audubon Society Years

By: Amos S. Eno
Posted on:02/17/2022

During my five years at Audubon (1981-1986) I focused on endangered species recovery issues. My primary focus was on Congressional appropriations working with House and Senate Interior Appropriations subcommittees to counter act the budget cuts for natural resource programs by OMB Director David Stockman and Interior Secretary Watt. The House Interior Appropriation subcommittee was chaired by Cong Sid Yates (D-IL) and ranking member Cong Ralph Regula (R-OH). A key figure for restoring wildlife and endangered species funding in these years was full Committee ranking member Cong Silvio Conte (R-MA). The Committee clerks who I worked closely with were: aforementioned Fred Mohrman, for whom I organized the daylong hearing of former Nixon/Ford administration notables (The” Never Were Gang”). Mohrman was ably succeeded by Neil Sigmon with whom I enjoyed a twenty-five-year relationship (Neil worked for me at NFWF after retiring as Congressional staff). On the Senate side Don Knowles was the Interior subcommittee clerk under Chair James McClure (R-ID), and full committee Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK). Don, in addition to being a wonderfully receptive clerk for my pleadings for add-ons, was a top-winners’ circle NASCAR driver. He would leave the Senate offices 11pm Friday nights drive to North Carolina or somewhere in the Southeast race circuit, race for 24 hours and be back at his desk Monday morning at Interior Subcommittee. I had SPORTS ILLUSTRATED write a feature story profiling his racing exploits and his contribution to conservation funding.

In addition to increasing endangered species funding across the board for several agencies (FWS, USFS, BLM), I was able to secure add-on funding for the California Condor Recovery program and land acquisition funding (LWCF) for a new National Wildlife Refuge, Hudson Ranch, which served as a feeding station of lead-free carcasses for condors.

A second priority was grizzly bear recovery in 1980. Back in February FWS’ A/D for research, Charles Loveless, called me to say we need more law enforcement presence to control grizzly mortalities. He said’: “We lost 10-30 bears to sheep herder kills on Targhee NF (eastern I.D.) in last 15 years. And we need a policy to reduce the antagonism between feds and states.” Charles added: “The states are often the most capable on the ground with research and enforcement.” (13)

This conversation planted a seed that would engage me over the next six years. To address the former issue, back country law enforcement, I secured an add-on for FWS-LE after lengthy discussions with Denver region LE supervisor Terry Grosz, who was both enthusiastic and committed to follow through on back country enforcement. For a detailed rendition of this story, and the subsequent engagement of Terry’s back country rangers see his book THE THIN GREEN LINE, chapter: Ephraim in the Office and the Outback, (14) I also initiated a $10,000 National Audubon reward program for information on grizzly mortalities. It worked!

In 1983, I was invited to speak at the annual conference of Idaho Sheep Growers conference in Pocatello, (sheep herders were a major source of grizzly mortality) and rather forcefully told the assembled audience they were not going to win this battle, even with Senator McClure’s sympathetic ear to the ground, and you need to stop shooting grizzlies on federal lands. My host, who was fortified with a couple of whiskeys during lunch hour, retook the podium and spoke to the audience: “please someone take that guy out and hang him.” As I walked out of the hall accompanied by state Senator Herm McDevitt, who was packing a piece, we were intercepted by a group of wives at the entrance hall who said:” thank you for telling our husbands what they needed to hear.” Before going to this Idaho congregation I called Jerry Conley, Director of Idaho Fish and Game for advice. He sent me a letter which I still have in my office, enclosing an ace of spades, with the note, “call a spade a spade!”

The backcountry rangers who traversed the National Forests surrounding Yellowstone NP visiting sheepherders and elk hunters were an effective presence. It worked!

Meanwhile USFS initiated strict back country behavior rules for campsites and food storage, and NPS introduced bear proof dumpsters in parks, the combination significantly reduced bear mortality over the ensuing several years. In these days – early 1980s – there were around 180 grizzlies in Yellowstone ecosystem; today there are 800+ and the major source of grizzly mortality in the northern Rockies is car and train collisions. Back country law enforcement worked!

The grizzly bear, which was listed as an endangered species in 1975, is the apex predator of the Rocky Mountain States, and as such has always engendered controversy. In the early 1970s A/S Nat Reed, relying on the advice of Starker Leopold and Durwood Allen, formalized in the Leopold report which Nat commissioned, to study the impact of garbage dumps in Yellowstone, had the NPS close the dumps. The dumps were a popular summer spectator sport for park visitors to observe grizzlies at close quarters, but they also habituated bears to human food and presence leading to human fatalities in campgrounds. The dump bears were the focus of a decade long study by the Craighead brothers who opposed the dump closures. Bears, humans, and food provide a potentially lethal combination and several headline incidents of bears killing campers, followed by theatric Congressional oversight hearings, precipitated Reed’s policy for dump closure.

In the spring of 1981, OES Chief Spinks hired Chris Servheen as FWS’ coordinator of grizzly recovery, based in Missoula, MT. Over the next 30 years Servheen proved to be FWS’ best and most talented species recovery leader. I worked closely with Servheen in 1981-84 to increase funding for grizzly recovery through Congressional add-ons generally, and specifically for back country law enforcement. I also initiated a $10,000 Audubon Reward program for information on grizzly mortalities. However, the biggest problem on the horizon was looming interagency turf battles. The bear’s core population resided in Yellowstone NP, and with the bears’ listing FWS became directly involved in grizzly research and management decisions heretofore the sole responsibility of NPS. Further Yellowstone is surrounded on all sides by five National Forests with peripheral bear populations where bears were suffering mortality from human contacts, and forests provided habitat for a potentially expanding population. BLM lands were a fourth agency involvement with peripheral habitat for management. Below the federal agency hierarchies, state fish and game agencies of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho were directly and daily involved with grizzly management issues. Navigating this potpourri of federal and state agencies was a nightmare for Servheen. So I drew up a blue print for an Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) composed of the four federal agencies (NPS, FWS, USFS, BLM), the three states (WA was added later), and created subcommittees for research, management and law enforcement coordination. I then marched into A/S FWP Ray Arnett’s office (I also briefed both USDA U/S John Crowell and George Dunlap) and presented the concept and handed him the blue print, and lo’ and behold, he approved it. It worked!

The IGBC was born and fed down the chain of agency commands in a matter of weeks. The IGBC propelled grizzly recovery over the next two decades. Bear mortalities decreased because of LE patrols, and implementation of strict USFS regulations on camping, food caches. NPS created bear proof dumpsters. Increased research, habitat mapping, radio tagging bears all contributed to recovery. By 2007 the grizzly had achieved all population and habitat requirements for delisting. Of course environmental litigants were not satisfied with success, and promoted moving the goal posts. The National Resource Defense Council (NRDC), sued to prevent delisting, alleging global climate impacts on white bark pine (pine nuts are a <5% food source for grizzlies in the fall), a very minor food source. If the same environmental litigants had been in the room with California condors we never would have fielded a research team, nor hosted a captive population which led to reintroduction and condor recovery. Recall that FOE repeatedly threatened to sue on condors to require an EIS before the research team could be sent forth. This environmental challenge to the grizzly de-listing represents a potpourri of legal shenanigans and low comedy in the courts. The sad reality today is environmental litigants (NRDC, Defenders of Wildlife (DOW), and Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) to name a few) are the principal impediments to achieving species recovery and their suits on listing species removes recovery funding to the Solicitors office and DOJ. Environmental litigants rarely help species recovery but they do derive regular financial windfalls from the litigation. See L. Baier’s: Equal Access to Justice.

The IGBC became a model for many NFWF grant programs including: Bring Back the Natives (trout and salmon restoration), Partners in Flight (PIF for neotropical bird recovery), Invasive species, and pollinators, and finally Pacific salmon. Implementing the latter salmon portfolio led to my removal by FWS Director Jamie R. Clark and Secretary Babbitt in 1999. Interagency coordination works! But it takes a lot of work to organize. As FWS’ Charlie Loveless pointed out in 1980, interagency coordination is essential when species move across multiple agency and state and federal jurisdictions drawn across our national landscape.

Lessons Learned:

Determining species mortality factors are critical to species recovery, and integrating coordination between federal and state agencies is essential.

A third priority became creating a forensic division and laboratory for enhanced capabilities for FWS enforcement of illegal wildlife trading, much of which involved endangered species. In the 1970-80s international wildlife trade and trafficking in illegal wildlife products, many foreign listed species such as psittacine parrots and rhino products, exploded. The problem facing FWS and the Justice Department Wildlife division (created under President Carter with Ken Berlin as Chief and succeeded by Don Carr- (both later became LandCAN board members) was they could not prove species identification in court. Were sexual stimulation tablets really comprised of rhino horn? Were immature plumage psittacine parrots macaws, a listed species? I was first alerted to this problem by Ken Goddard in a call (15) saying: “we need to identify imported psittacine parrots.” That call led to a five-year effort to enhance funding for FWS’s LE forensic capability and to secure funding for the National Wildlife Forensic Laboratory which now sits in Ashland, OR. It is a first-in-class, world beating facility costing tens of millions of dollars-all funded by Congressional add-ons. As I write (December 31 2021) the Director of the lab is still its originator, Ken Goddard, who is best in business in the world of wildlife forensics. Ken is a former San Diego police detective and a successful multi-volume crime novelist. He has been a brilliant lab director for 30 years, whose evidentiary analysis has led to countless successful prosecutions of wildlife crimes both domestically and on international wildlife trafficking cases. Ashland was selected as the lab site in 1986- over the dead body of LE Chief Clark Bavin, but that is another two-year side story of bureaucratic infighting- following initial appropriation add ons. Goddard designed the floor plan in 1986, construction started in 1987, finished in 1988, and the lab started first case work in 1989. This worked beautifully! Several years later, I accompanied House Interior Appropriations clerk Deb Weatherly to visit the Ashland lab for briefings that led to additional add-ons for lab expansion. A portion of the story to create the forensic lab-navigating the FWS, interior department maze- can be found in Terry Grosz’s book DEFENDING OUR WILDLIFE HERITAGE, Johnson books, 2001. See chapter: “Ashes to Ashland” (16) Terry was unfamiliar with the details of my work with House and Senate Interior Appropriations staff who made the decisions to provide add-on funding, but he was an invaluable alley in FWS LE offices.

By the mid-1980s the environmental movement became increasingly partisan and a lock, stock, and barrel extension of the Democratic Party. My first week at National Audubon I was confronted with that stark reality. I was hired by Audubon’s VP for Science, Glenn Paulson at the recommendation of Gene Knoder, who I worked closely with during my FWS/OES years (1978-81) to work on endangered species. Ken Berlin, former DOJ attorney was hired by VP Rupe Cutler (former U/S USDA, Carter Administration) also to work on endangered species. Our first week in Audubon’s Washington office we were instructed by William Butler, DC office head, not to work together. A quick beer after work put those instructions in the hamper, and Ken and I worked the 1982 ESA amendments together. Two days later Ken and I are flown to NYC Audubon headquarters to meet Rupe Cutler, who pulls out a Senate directory and tells us not to work with Senate Republicans who had just taken the majority. Over the next 5 years, I got hundreds of millions of dollars added to FWS budget for both core programs like endangered species and for land acquisition (LWCF), in large part due to Senate Republicans (aforementioned Senators McClure and Stevens primarily), and Cong. Silvio Conte on the House side. I also have five years of negative performance evaluations compliments of Bill Butler. Sometimes leadership does not work. In September 1981 Audubon’s new President Russ Peterson presented to the board a budget of -$1.8 million (17) with five new $50,000 hires for the New York office. Unfortunately, only one board member, Anthony Lapham, objected. In the 1960s and 1970s National Audubon enjoyed the most robust financial support of all the major environmental advocacy organizations. Peterson and his successor Peter AA Berle made short work of that financial stability and left a depleted endowment. They also terminated the best wildlife magazine editor in America, Les Line, and gutted Audubon’s first class research staff. To add a parting shot of injury, Berle tried to replace Audubon’s brand, the flying great egret, with a black flag, a brilliant marketing strategy! TR Reid of the Washington Post wrote an accurate assessment of environmental organizations policy effectiveness in November, 1978, stating, “public interest lobbyists…by becoming commonplace, have lost their cachet. Today, no matter how noble the organization they represent, they are just lobbyists. They take their place in line with anyone else. The growing awareness that public interest lobbyists- and he specifically cited the environmental movement-were at bottom, simply lobbyists with no fair claim to higher moral standing than other members of the species. That recognition has contributed to a decline in public interest in Congress.” (18)

It was all too true.

In part because of the increasingly partisan political nature of environmental advocacy, and in part to reassert National Audubon’s historical role and leadership for wildlife conservation, I decided to raise funds, hire writers, edit and publish what became the AUDUBON WILDLIFE REPORTS in 1984. The first volume (1985) covered all the programs of the FWS, as well as a dozen species accounts of critically endangered species such as the California condor (author John Ogden), Grizzly bear (author Chris Servheen). The second volume covered the U.S. Forest Service and another spate of species accounts. These are 600+ page tomes. The third volume covered the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and more species profiles. FWS director Fran Dunkel was so taken with the first volume that he bought 5,000 copies for FWS personnel. Half a dozen years ago I was invited to give a lecture at the University of Idaho in Moscow, ID to honor the retirement of Coop leader Michael Scott. Half a dozen professors sallied forth with their copies requesting my signature, so somewhere people read those REPORTS. My agreement with Audubon’s leadership was that I would raise all funds to produce and print those reports for three years and then it would become a budget line item. President Berle had other thoughts. He used our funds to cover his deficit and sent me back to my donors for a refill.  I told him off in front of the assembled board of directors and was fired the next day. Another example of failed environmental leadership that does not work in the long run. Berle was dismissed a couple of years later by the timorous board after trying to replace the egret logo with his black flag, an example of marketing seppuku, and further Audubon budgetary demolitions.

A final project of my Audubon years that bled into NFWF years was securing LWCF $ to expand Buenos Aires NWR southwest of Tucson AZ to enhance recovery habitat for the endangered masked bobwhite. This became a Mexican two-step process. Masked bobwhite are a Mexican grassland/desert species whose only U. S. presence is the fingerling Altar Valley on which Buenos Aires sits. The refuge manager Wayne Shifflett was a go-getter and we worked closely together for several years to garner support from the AZ. Congressional delegation headed by Senator D. Deconcini - I was successful securing earmarks for bobwhites for several years, but then Secretaries Hodel and Clark put a hold on releasing the funds. Two years of closely working with U/S Ann McLaughlin finally brought approval and funding release over the finish line.


re: A Personal Perspective of the Endangered Species Act for its 50th Anniversary, National Audubon Society Years
By: Nayan on: 09/12/2023

Thanks for sharing