Speech to the Roosevelt Conservation Caucus

By: Amos S. Eno
Posted on:07/01/2019

On June 4, 2019, LandCAN President Amos S. Eno addressed the Roosevelt Conservation Caucus. Below is the transcript of that speech.

My great uncle was Gifford Pinchot, my great grandfather’s sister was his mother, Mary Eno. My family has committed to conservation causes for 5 successive generations. My son, Amos Pinchot, works for me at the Land Conservation Assistance Network (LandCAN).

Endangered species conservation has been an important current throughout the stream of my career. My first paying job, after a year of tracking tigers in Nepal, was to work during the Nixon/Ford administrations for the Assistant Secretary of Interior for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Nat Reed, 1973-1976, so my professional baptism was on the corridor that drafted the 1973 Endangered Species Act. Doug Wheeler who was deputy Assistant Secretary at that time is on my LandCAN advisory board today. In 1976-77 I went around the world and met with leading endangered species conservation biologists: from Patrick Hamilton (leopards), Iain Douglas-Hamilton and Ian Parker (elephants), Graeme Caughley (red kangaroos). In 1978 -1980 I worked as assistant to the Chief of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Endangered Species, John Spinks. I oversaw all funding for listing and recovery grants for 4 years (including noticeable successes such as sea turtle recovery in Mexico, overseen by Jack Woody). In 1980-1986 I was Director of Wildlife Programs of National Audubon Society and oversaw the California condor recovery program, and the initiation of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) which propelled the grizzly recovery from 180 bears in Yellowstone ecosystem to over 800 today. From 1986 to 1999, when I was removed by Bruce Babbitt and Jamie Clark, I ran the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation where I initiated hundreds of grants for endangered species, including some 140 grants to keep species off the list. For the last 20 years, we have been building LandCAN to engage landowners in conservation because they are the single, most important US constituency with potential to accomplish endangered species recovery. We created the Habitat Conservation Assistance Network for both sage grouse and lesser prairie chicken conservation and recovery, and soon will be adding monarchs to the site.

Lessons from a 1973-2019 career track: First, I was there from the beginning for ESA program implementation at Interior. I was involved in outsourcing whooping cranes to the International Crane Foundation (George Archibold), peregrines to the Peregrine Fund (Tom Cade), California condors to San Diego and Los Angeles zoos for captive breeding, bald eagles for hacking in New York (Tina Milburn of Cornell under Tom Cades’ tutelage). The aforementioned creation of IGBC brought in the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho in as equal partners to federal agencies (Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service) to oversee grizzly recovery. The result of these combined efforts was entrepreneurial nonprofits and states, not USFWS, propelled species recoveries time and time again.

Second, my international travels in India, Nepal, and Africa taught me the on-the-ground reality of wildlife management across the third world, and the incipient application of community-based conservation (David Western with Maasai, for example).

As David Western wrote in In The Dust Of Kilimanjaro, “Conceding that local people can become the chief beneficiaries and custodians of natural resources and biodiversity is a truly momentous stride; this one leap opens the door to a rural conservation long thwarted by misguided policies.”

Returning to the US, I witnessed environmental groups sue to list species, not on biological merit, but on aggressive agenda driving, as was the case with both leopards and kangaroos, and I wrote the decision documents preventing listing of those two species.

Third, my fifteen years at NFWF taught me that interagency cooperation and community-based collaboration were keystones for recovery. For Pacific salmon we pooled funds from FWS, BLM, USFS, NOAA/NMFS, Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, Bonneville Power and the states of Washington, Oregon, and California. Secretary Babbitt undid this program- this unraffling lead to 20 years of litigation on the Klamath basin. Babbitt’s signature contribution to undermining ESA was the removal of the Research branch of USFWS as a result of his failed attempt to create a National Biological Survey. We also did 140 grants to keep species like the Karner blue butterfly and ferruginous pygmy-owl off the ESA list. The lesson here is the more pro-active and pre-emptive you are, the more successful the fish and wildlife recovery.

That brings us today’s world, 45 years since the passage of the 1973 ESA bill. The world has changed and it is high time to upgrade the bill with a surge of new funding and strategic partner application to focus on species recovery as opposed to a dozen environmental organizations feasting on litigation for listing. I have brought hand-outs that provide slides to illustrate key dimensions of the ESA issues today.

Yogi Berra once quipped: “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is!”

If you look at the world of on-the-ground practice, as opposed to regulatory impositions based on theory, here is what you find:

  • 71 % of the lower 48 states is in private ownerships (the care of 70% of our national estate is in the hands of less than 2% of our citizens, primarily ranchers, farmers and forest owners.)
  • Aldo Leopold, the archangel of environmentalists, wrote in his River of the Mother of God essays: “the geography of conservation is such that most of the best land will always be held privately for agricultural production. The bulk of responsibility for conservation thus necessarily devolves upon the private custodian, especially the farmer.”
  • In the West, farmers and ranchers control the water and riparian areas, so they steward the most important ecological lands – see sage grouse, who raise their broods on the irrigated wet meadows of private lands.
  • Nationwide, private land owners steward 80% of our endangered species habitat, 82% of our wetlands.
  • If you scrub the demographics of these private land owners, you find that there are 2.2 million farmers and ranchers, and 10.7 million forest owners. Nationwide, the average farmer is over 60 years of age, and the average forest owner is over seventy, so both constituencies should be in estate planning and intergeneration transition.
  • For decades there has been a mismatch of emphasis on endangered species recovery with a focus on high profile western species – grizzly, wolves, sage grouse – while the concentration of endemics, bio diversity, and fragile ecosystems (longleaf pine) are in the Southeast, Texas, California and the Pacific Northwest (primarily Pacific Salmon).
  • To reform the ESA and propel recovery of species we need a surge of effort (analogous to Petraeus’ surge in Iraq), that should come from empowering our states, not expanding the federal role. When the ESA was passed in 1973, few states had nongame and endangered species program. Section 6 of the act was added as a lagniappe to entice states into the game; it is the most successful provision of the law. Over the intervening 45 years, states have created robust nongame and endangered species monitoring and recovery programs. In today’s world of ESA management, states have better monitoring, better research, better cooperation with businesses, and better outreach to landowners. Some states, most notably Texas, have embarked on aggressive and exceedingly successful programs to cooperate with industries and private landowners. Texas has over 33 million acres of private lands enrolled in conservation management programs involving almost 8,000 individual land owners, representing almost 20% of all the private land in Texas.

Endangered species policy decisions are also responsible for the other elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about, western forest fires. Gifford Pinchot wrote in The Fight for Conservation: “When forests fail, the daily life of the average citizen will inevitably feel the pinch on every side. And forests have already begun to fail, as a direct result of the suicidal policy of forest destruction which people of the United States have allowed themselves to pursue.” When he was writing in early 20th century, Pinchot was referring to industrial clear cutting of our forests, but the spirit and pertinence of his remarks are more than appropriate to today’s fire dominated landscapes.( 2017:71,499 wildfires consumed 10,026-086 acres, and in 2018 : 58,083 wildfires consumed 8,767,492 acres). The listing of the spotted owl signaled the death knell of western forests. Combined with decades of wilderness designations, this listing terminated forest management across the West.  We should call our modern forest fire phenomenon what it is: ENVIRONMENTAL FUEL LOADING, or EFL! Western forests have suffered a 7 year drought, but more than 50 years of EFL. In his 1972 environmental message to Congress launching his legislation for environmental reforms, President Nixon quoted President Teddy Roosevelt:

“I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use our natural resources; but I do not recognize the right to waste them or to rob by wasteful use the generations that come after us.”

Wildfires today are an ecological, economic, and social waste.

Today my small foundation, the Land Conservation Assistance Network, is the largest conservation information platform on the internet in the U.S. We created a national site that covers all 50 states, an endangered species site, HabitatCAN, 9 state sites (Maine, California, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Idaho, Colorado, Texas, and Virginia). Each of our sites hosts all the federal programs that touch private landowners, and the comparable state sponsored programs. We host non-advocacy nonprofits: every conservation district and every land trust in the country, and boots on the ground nonprofits. And we host over 40,000 for-profit businesses serving rural America, including almost 5,000 tax and estate lawyers and over 4,000 consulting foresters. All our sites are free and require no log in nor registration.

Week before last, I was in Austin, Texas to announce our newest state site,, at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s (TPWD) Commission meeting. Texas, is 95% + private lands-which by the way, is why Davey Crockett told his constituents in Tennessee to go to Hell! He was going to Texas! Texas leads the nation in private land conservation. Back in 1993, I gave a $1.7 million NFWF grant to help establish a private land program at TPWD. There are now 33 million acres enrolled in conservation management plans throughout the state. The last grant I made as NFWF executive director was to help establish the Texas Ag Land Trust (TALT). TALT is now the largest and most effective land trust in the state. These private land initiatives in Texas represent REAL, with a capital R, on –the-ground progress, and these initiatives can be replicated in other states across the country. Private lands are the 21st market for conservation in America, and reaching back to the ghosts of Roosevelt and Pinchot, I know they would recognize this opportunity, as TR’s days as a rancher in North Dakota remind us.