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House Resources Committee OKs ESA legislation

Issue Date: September 28, 2005

By Christine Souza
Assistant Editor

Progress related to protecting threatened and endangered species, as well as the property rights of landowners, took a big step forward in Washington, D.C. last week when the House Resources Committee approved legislation that would modernize the 31-year-old Endangered Species Act.

With bipartisan support, the committee led by Chairman Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, last Thursday passed HR 3824, the Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act of 2005, by a vote of 26-12. Eighteen Republicans and eight Democrats voted in favor of the legislation, while 10 Democrats and two Republicans voted against the bill. The legislation is on its way to the full House, where Pombo says a floor vote could happen as early as this week. California Farm Bureau Federation has sent a delegation to Washington to show support for the bill.

There will likely be attempts to substantially amend or kill the legislation once it reaches the House floor. Senate passage will be even more contentious.

California Farm Bureau Federation, which supports private property rights as well as species recovery, is pleased with the early progress of the legislation.

"This legislation would result in meaningful reform to make the act more effective for species and agencies, as well as landowners. That is the whole bottom line. This is about finding more effective ways to enhance and improve recovery," said California Farm Bureau Federation President Bill Pauli. "The process is what is so seriously flawed in terms of the years and years of research, litigation and biological opinions and those things that just haven't really been effective in enhancing and improving species. When you take a look at the amount of money that the agencies are spending, it is all being spent on litigation which doesn't help the species, it doesn't help the property owners, it doesn't help anything."

Elements of the bill that were presented to the Resources Committee last week and that could be helpful to landowners and species recovery include the following: providing for the use of the best available scientific data in all decisions; replacing the critical habitat program with a more integrated recovery planning process; providing for an active implementation of recovery plans through implementation agreements between the Interior Secretary and other federal agencies; ensuring a "species-specific" approach to establishing "take" prohibitions for threatened species and establishing new incentives for voluntary conservation efforts, among others.

Diana Westmoreland Pedrozo, Merced County Farm Bureau executive director, experienced an important critical habitat designation in her county for the vernal pool fairy shrimp. In its initial proposal in 2002, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated about 1.7 million acres in 36 California counties and one Oregon county as critical habitat for 15 wetland animals and plants listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA, including the fairy shrimp. In the final designation, about 924,000 acres of habitat were removed leaving about 739,000 acres.

"The reason why Merced County has the beautiful vernal pool complex on the eastern edge of the county along the Mariposa County line is that, for generations, farmers and ranchers have done a wonderful job of managing their land and their animals and the resources. They know how to do that," Pedrozo said.

Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Atwater, a co-sponsor of HR 3824, says the bill will improve recovery of species by doing away with the ESA's critical habitat designation system.

"Almost one-third of the entire region of my home county in Merced (in 2002) would have been designated as critical habitat if the original order had been carried out. The Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act will fix this problem by replacing the critical habitat program with a recovery plan approach," Cardoza said.

Shasta Valley cattle rancher Bruce Fiock said he is pleased to see that HR 3824 includes the establishment of a grant program and financial compensation for landowners' voluntary conservation efforts. Fiock, a fifth-generation rancher whose property lies along the Shasta River, took part in a program to meet the water needs of the ranch, as well as installed fish screens to protect coho salmon populations.

"We have redesigned our means of collecting our water allotment from the river, so we made our river access more fish-friendly. We strive to be stewards of our environment and I feel that agriculture and the fisheries can co-exist. We can use our water and be good stewards to protect fisheries and wildlife," Fiock, a CFBF board member, said. "With some of the conservation incentives offered in the new ESA legislation, even more farmers will be able to participate in conservation efforts."

California Farm Bureau Natural Resources and Environmental Division Managing Counsel Brenda Southwick and Ronda Lucas, associate counsel, traveled to Capitol Hill for last week's committee proceedings to show support for the legislation.

"During last week's hearing there was a general recognition among members of the Resources Committee that if the nation is to recover species, landowners have to be an integral part of the process," Southwick said.

Lucas said that during last week's hearing, she noticed a significant shift in the way representatives on both sides of the aisle have come to view the ESA's progress.

"There is a general consensus that the old way isn't working and the debate about the ESA is fundamentally changed for the better. It is no longer, 'we have to change the act vs. no we don't.' It is, 'there are horrible flaws and we have to do a better job,'" Lucas said. "The disagreement happens more with the details, so it is not about whether the act should be changed, it is about what in the act needs to be changed and what is the best approach."

California Farm Bureau has asked its members to e-mail or fax letters supporting the bill to their member of Congress. Farm Bureau encourages its members to thank legislators who supported HR 3824, and remind them how important this legislation is to the future of California family farms and ranches. The following members showed their support in voting the measure out of the Resources Committee: Richard Pombo, R-Tracy; Dennis Cardoza, D-Atwater; Jim Costa, D-Fresno; Joe Baca, D-Rialto and George Radonovich, R-Mariposa.

A FARM TEAM action alert has been placed on cfbf.com to help facilitate communication with House members. Go to cfbf.com, click on "FARM TEAM" and follow the prompts.

(Christine Souza is a reporter for Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item. (Top)




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