Wichita More money for landowners, not additional rules, could be the key to easing disputes about ways to protect endangered species, Interior Secretary Gale Norton said.
Norton on Wednesday was back in her native Wichita to speak at the annual meeting of state wildlife officials.
She called for more voluntary efforts to protect wildlife and for more cooperation between the federal government, state wildlife agencies and landowners.
"Our farmers and ranchers are often the best stewards of our land. The federal government should work with them instead of being in conflict," she said.
That attitude has made her unpopular with some environmental groups, who opposed her nomination. The groups said she was too cozy with industry and private property rights groups and had worked for a legal foundation that opposed protection of endangered species.
But Norton said in the past, some efforts to protect rare fish, birds and mammals have backfired.
When a species is proposed for protection under federal law, landowners will sometimes rush to cut down trees, dig up gravel bars or destroy the animal's habitat to avoid having restrictions placed on their land, she said.
"I heard in another state that some ranchers are trying to eradicate prairie dogs before they get listed as endangered," she said.
Few of the Interior Department's responsibilities have been as controversial with individual landowners as protecting endangered species.
Norton said that the department will continue to add animals to the endangered species list, particularly those already under study, but she hopes to avoid listing others such as the prairie dog.
"It is better all around if we can use voluntary approaches instead of getting bogged down in heavy-handed regulatory situations," she said.