Here are the results of the current
federal Endangered Species Act:
• Fewer than 1 percent (10 of roughly
1,300 species) have recovered in the
• 39 percent of all listed species are
classified in “unknown” status.
• 21 percent of all listed species are
classified as “declining.”
• 3 percent (or roughly two dozen
species) are believed to be extinct.
• Only 6 percent of all listed species
are classified as “improving.”
• 77 percent of all listed species
have only achieved 0-25 percent of
their recovery goals.
Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Fix ESA without partisan
If some members of Congress need proof that
the federal Endangered Species Act needs
revision, they should talk to Randy Vilhauer.
The Sheridan, Ore., farmer opened his mail
recently and found a four-page letter from
Kemper M. McMaster, state supervisor of the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“Dear Interested Party,” it began.
The letter informed Vilhauer and his
neighbors in the Willamette Valley that
their farms are part of 3,901 acres proposed
as critical habitat for the Fender’s blue
butterfly, Kincaid’s lupine and Willamette
After reading the letter, Vilhauer’s next
step was to call a lawyer. With all of the
uncertainties revolving around the ESA,
which has spawned lawsuit after lawsuit
across the West, he believed he needed legal
advice to determine how the critical habitat
proposal will affect him and his farm.
That, specifically, is one reason the ESA is
broken. Not just cracked; it is broken. The
fact that farmers and ranchers believe they
need legal representation just to protect
their rights under the ESA is, by itself, an
indictment of the law and how it is applied.
It is also proof of why reforming the ESA in
Congress is not a party-line issue or a
rural vs. urban issue; it is a much-needed
rewrite based on a three-decade-long track
record littered with ineffectiveness and
legal strong-arm tactics used against
farmers and ranchers.
Yet a look at how members of the U.S. House
voted on HR3824, the Threatened and
Endangered Species Recovery Act, shows that
only 35 Democrats were among the 229 votes
cast in favor of the reform.
Co-sponsored by Resources Committee Chairman
Richard W. Pombo, R-Calif., and Reps. Dennis
Cardoza, D-Calif., George Radanovich, R-Calif.,
and Greg Walden, R-Ore., TESRA would help
farmers and ranchers meet the needs of
recovering endangered species without being
forced to bear the financial burden. It
would also provide for peer review of
Yet, sadly, when the votes were cast, the
Oregon and Washington delegations split
along party and urban-rural lines. Despite
the fact that the ESA has loomed large in
issues ranging from salmon litigation to
timber issues, not one of Washington’s six
Democratic members of the House voted for
TESRA. At the same time, two of the three
Washington Republicans voted for it, with
Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Bellevue, the lone
In Oregon, none of the four Democratic
members of the House voted for TESRA.
In California, only Cardoza, who represents
Merced, Calif., and Reps. Joe Baca of San
Bernardino and Jim Costa of Fresno voted for
it out of 33 California Democrats in the
Why is it that urban members of the House
bypassed this opportunity to help fix such a
deeply flawed law? Why would they want to
retain a law that does so little to help
species and so much to hurt agriculture?
Though some in the House may have seen
fixing the ESA as a partisan issue, it is
not. Members of the Senate know the many
shortcomings of the ESA need to rectified if
it is ever to meet its goal of bringing back
endangered species from the brink of
extinction. Under the current ESA, of the
about 1,300 species listed as threatened or
endangered, fewer than 1 percent have been
Considering the cost to farmers, ranchers,
the timber industry and taxpayers, that
track record is abysmal.
Now the issue goes to the U.S. Senate, where
Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, plans to introduce
legislation aimed at fixing the ESA. Farmers
and ranchers are looking to the Senate to
set aside partisanship and take up the
banner of making the ESA more effective by
working with landowners, not against them.
As it currently stands, the ESA is an
equal-opportunity blunt instrument used
against farmers, ranchers and others whose
only mistake is owning the land where
endangered species still live. In its
uniquely perverse way, ESA punishes them
because they are stewards of the land.
As passed in the House, TESRA will fix that.
Now it’s up to members of the Senate to set
aside party and urban-rural differences,
roll up their sleeves and work to make TESRA
work for rare plants and animals – and all
Only when that happens will Randy Vilhauer
and other farmers and ranchers feel more
confident about their future.