Letters From the West

Species Office’s Miller gets easy confirmation hearing

Dustin Miller’s confirmation hearing Monday for his post as administrator of the Office of Species Conservation was far quieter than rejected F&G Commissioner Joan Hurlock’s hearing earlier this month before the Senate Resources and Environment Committee.
Senators were far less confrontational and the room was filled with Miller’s family and “fan club” instead of angry white male hunters questioning Hurlock’s qualifications to serve. But the friendly nature of the hearing was due as much to the very different role the Office has compared with the Department of Fish and Game.
The Office of Species Conservation name would suggest that its main mission is to protect and recover threatened and endangered species in the state. But if that was its main mission, Miller would have faced a grilling about how many wolves he has hugged, how many salmon has he kissed and why should they believe anything he says.
But the office was established to protect Idaho’s interests, its ranchers, its timber industry, its miners and others from the dictates of the federal Endangered Species Act. The office coordinates with state and federal agencies to develop Idaho conservation plans that meet the federal law but have less impact on Idahoans.
The fact that good species conservation often can coexist with traditional industries and development with good planning and coordination make the office able to meet both its missions much of the time. Miller, who has been with the office since 2008, is the kind of a person who fits this task well.
Miller worked for former Republican U.S. Sen. Larry Craig as his natural resources field coordinator prior to joining Species Conservation. That job mainly had him meeting with ranchers, foresters and local leaders to help them deal with federal land and wildlife agencies.
Before that he worked for the Idaho Farm Bureau, working on the same issues. So he answered questions like one from Sen. Jeff Siddoway, of Teton, asking what he and Gov. Butch Otter, who appointed him, were going to do to fight the Bureau of Land Management’s recent decision cutting back grazing in Owyhee County.
And Sen. Dean Cameron , quipped that he listed “the radical organization, the Idaho Farm Bureau,” as a possible conflict of interest. Then he asked whether predators are considered a threat to sage grouse, a popular view of sportsmen.
Miller deftly pushed the issue off to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service which lists, fire, invasive species and habitat fragmentation as the major threats.
Chairman Monte Pearce wanted to know how often he and his office communicated with the Department of Fish and Game.

“Daily,” Miller said.

Then Pearce asked Miller to introduce his wife Dana and his whole family. They will vote on the nomination Wednesday but short of something erupting in the next to days, like if he gave money to Barack Obama, Miller appears poised to get the committee’s passionate recommendation.

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

Posted in Letters from the West