WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Wednesday, Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., spoke again about the Elkins Field Office for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service during a Senate hearing Wednesday.

Capito, a Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, participated in a full committee hearing Wednesday titled, “IIJA Investments in Habitat and Ecosystem Restoration, Pollinators, and Wildlife Crossings.”

Capito spoke about improving the staffing and efficiency of FWS’ Elkins office.

“I have one final question for Director Williams,” Capito said during the hearing. “And we’ve talked a lot about the Elkins field office in West Virginia. But it’s my understanding that they had a detailee from the U.S. Forest Service.

“Your staff that indicated that this has been very helpful in managing the backlog of Section 7 consultations, but that the process to execute the memorandum of understanding to secure a detailee can be very lengthy and complex. And I was wondering if you had any recommendations as to how those processes could be expedited?”

FWS Director Martha Williams responded, “We would like transfer authority because that helps us with federal agencies … and because it helps to have people from the agencies we’re working with, and who know the process. So one way is through the transfer authority, which we are seeking.

“And the other is through these reciprocal agreements, which we have used often with external parties. So those are two tools that we use. But I would say that if we had better capacity within the FWS to have adequate staffer consultations, we could do more as well.”

In May, Capito had spoken about the Elkins office during a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

“We have discussed in previous hearings the frustrations that I’ve had with the delays that consultation under the Endangered Species Act has added to projects in West Virginia and elsewhere,” Capito said in May.

“I do want to acknowledge and thank the Elkins Field Office for its work on the biological opinions on two key projects in West Virginia: the Mountain Valley Pipeline and Nucor’s steel sheet mill,” Capito said at the time.

“I also want to acknowledge the additional resources that you have allotted to reviewing projects in West Virginia through creating three new full-time positions in the Elkins Field Office, and by detailing staff from elsewhere in the Service to help address the backlog of project reviews in our state.

“However, more work is needed and the Service must better utilize its resources to ensure the projects are reviewed in a timely manner,” she said.

“Currently, West Virginia state agencies, the private sector, and even other federal agencies are funding positions at the Service’s Field Office in Elkins.

“This feels like West Virginians are kind of getting taxed twice to do the same work that the Service does.

“We even experience delays with getting the very paperwork in place that establishes cooperative agreements for my state’s agencies to even use the taxpayer dollars to fund staff for the Field Office,” the senator said.

“West Virginia Department of Highways has been funding a position at the Field Office for more than 10 years. Let me say that again, 10 years.”

Capito concluded, “The Service must start striking a balance between recovering species and protecting American livelihoods.”