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 October 14, 2005 The Oregonian

A failed law requires more than status quo

It could be noted that people support reform as long as it doesn't change anything.

A case in point: The Endangered Species Act is broken, and that has been apparent since its implementation 31 years ago. Every year since then, with countless hours of testimony logged, the debate has raged about how to address the law's problems and inefficiencies. In Oregon, we have witnessed firsthand the negative impact of the act on private landowners and the economy.

Acknowledging a system is broken, while being unwilling to accept reasonable solutions to fix it, is a prescription for trouble. Some groups talk about reforming the act so it can be more successful while at the same time fighting to maintain the status quo. Meanwhile, species, public agencies and property owners are paying the price -- literally. The only groups benefiting from maintaining the status quo are those litigating and fundraising within the process.

Defending a failing system without offering positive solutions can result in adjustments at the ballot box that oftentimes are far more draconian.

Both sides of the debate recognize the marked inadequacies in the current ESA legislation. Passed in 1973 with the honorable intention of species recovery, the law has been a complete failure. It has achieved only 1 percent recovery, while 60 percent of endangered species are declining or of unknown status. Keeping with the ESA status quo can hardly be considered the safety net that environmentalists would like to paint it as.

A careful reading of the act's history shows its true intent and goal was recovery, not simply a safety net. It was never imagined that the law would become a litigation nightmare and powerful tool that hinders the rights of private landowners.

One percent success is not enough. That means failure 99 percent of the time, and only comprehensive updates to the act will make a difference.

Oregonians would be foolish to forget so quickly the horrible impact of decisions made under the ESA. In 2001, water was shut off to the farmers in the Klamath Basin under provisions of the ESA with the intention of protecting endangered salmon. After great hardship befell many, a review of the science used to make the decision showed it lacked merit. And let us not forget the economic impact on many small rural communities after the listing of the spotted owl as an endangered species. And yet, the status quo of the ESA safety net has done nothing to actually move either of these species closer to recovery.

Let's not be fooled. If the debate is really about species recovery, the Endangered Species Act is a failure. Therefore, adjustments like the bill passed last week in the House of Representatives are warranted.

The House took a defining step by saying that no longer will we pay lip service to improving the Endangered Species Act. It is my sincere hope that when Oregonians start talking about reform, they look for the common-sense change that must accompany it. Oregon's Rep. Greg Walden and his colleagues made the right decision in passing needed reform to the Endangered Species Act and creating a system that can accomplish its true goal of recovery.

Paul Phillips is a former Republican state legislator and is president of Pac/West Communications.



Friday, October 14, 2005

Sensible change, not a giant step backward

As lifelong sportsmen and conservationists, we are alarmed by the efforts of Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., to weaken the Endangered Species Act. His rewrite of this 30-year-old landmark conservation law was rammed through the U.S. House of Representatives in record time. Now the issue moves to the Senate where we can only hope more thoughtful approaches will prevail.

When the Endangered Species Act passed to bipartisan support in 1973, the questions were simple but haunting: Would our children live to see a bald eagle soar? Or see a gray whale? Or just know that somewhere, in the country's hinterlands, the wolf and grizzly run free?

Some of these questions remain unanswered. Will our grandchildren thrill to see salmon leaping up to the headwaters of the Columbia?

If Pombo has his way, we fear the answer will forever be "no."

The Pombo bill is a giant step backward in America's struggle to balance the desires of humans with our responsibility to be good stewards of our natural resources. Thankfully, Senate moderates are working up an alternative bill that reflects the recommendations of the Wildlife Society, the national professional body of wildlife biologists. That group recently produced an excellent review of the Endangered Species Act and made sensible recommendations.

There are too many flaws in the Pombo bill to detail in this limited space. But one of the most serious flaws is that it would allow the Interior Secretary of the Interior -- a political appointee -- to determine the "best" science to follow in managing endangered species. That's the kind of question we best hire scientists -- not politicians -- to answer.

We live in a crucial time in the history of wildlife conservation. Wild mammals and fish find themselves squeezed between a rapidly growing human population and an alarming change in our climate. Both factors are already stressing our natural world as never before.

Now is the time for sensible policy improvements to the Endangered Species Act, as recommended by the Wildlife Society. This is no time for knee-jerk, politically railroaded strategies that serve neither landowners, local governments nor wildlife.

One of us is a Democrat and one a Republican. We long to return to the time when natural resource management was a bipartisan issue. The Endangered Species Act itself was signed by a Republican president, Richard Nixon. Theodore Roosevelt was our greatest conservationist president and a Republican. Roosevelt must be turning in his grave to see where his party has gone on the issues to which he devoted his life -- democracy in action to protect our public trust resources.

Now is the time for sportsmen, conservationists and fair-minded people of both parties to stop the railroading of the Endangered Species Act and to promote deliberate and thoughtful improvements. The question critics of conservation are really asking is: "What's more important, me or my children?" As the richest country in history, do we need to use up all of our nation's resources to get even richer now while leaving a diminished natural world for our children?

The politics of extinction are alive and well in the U.S. House of Representatives. Now the question is: What are the deliberations and decisions of the Senate. Sportsmen -- and anyone who loves the natural world -- owe it to themselves and their children to help find the right solution.


Jim Martin of Mulino is conservation director of the Berkley Conservation Institute and is retired chief of fisheries for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Mike Dombeck is a professor at the University of Wisconsin at Sevens Point and a former chief of the U.S. Forest Service.





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