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Bend Bulletin November 1, 2005
ESA Needs to be Reworked
By Dan Keppen
The Bend Bulletin has recently provided guest columnists with the opportunity to voice concerns with Congressman Greg Walden and his role in the recent historic passage of the Threatened and Endangered Species Restoration Act of 2005 (TESRA) by the U.S. House of Representatives. However, there are other voices in Eastern Oregon who think Rep. Walden has done yeoman’s work towards bringing necessary changes to the three-decade old Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Many family farmers and ranchers believe TESRA is a positive step toward improving an outdated law that is clearly not working. Since 1973, more than 1,300 species have been listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA. Only 10 have actually been recovered sufficiently to be delisted. Over the same time period, 35 have been found to be extinct.
A primary reason for this dismal success rate is that the current law requires no recovery plan when time a species is listed. Instead, habitat "protections" are invoked, whether habitat is an issue in recovery or not. For example, in the case of the recovered peregrine falcon and the nearly recovered bald eagle, habitat protection was mostly irrelevant.
TESRA updates the aging ESA to actually recover threatened and endangered species, rather than adding them to a list indefinitely with uncertain success and at significant expense to property owners.
Representative Walden has been unfairly criticized by some for using the 2001 curtailment of Klamath Project irrigators as justification for modernizing the ESA. In fact, if any one elected official is worthy of weighing in on this topic, that person would be Greg Walden, who is intimately familiar with the very complex water issues of the Klamath Basin.
Rep. Walden witnessed firsthand what happened in 2001, when the federal government announced that, for the first time in 95 years, no water would be provided for irrigators from Upper Klamath Lake. Instead, that water was reallocated to meet the alleged needs of three fish species protected by the ESA. The process that led to this action has since led the National Research Council (NRC) to twice conclude that the decisions made by federal agencies that year were not scientifically justified. Since that time, Congressman Walden has been a strong advocate for the use of peer review and injection of sound science into ESA-related decision-making.
Advocates of peer-reviewed science are not trying to "gut" or "dismantle" this dated law. They are simply trying to make it work better.
The final NRC Klamath report also questioned the current regulatory structure that governs Klamath basin fisheries management. In addition to calling for oversight of current federal agency management, the NRC report recommends that the management structure for ecosystem restoration needs to involve local groups and private landowners in the design of restoration activities and investments. The report urges federal management agencies to recognize the nature of incentives in the ESA for private landowners to participate in ecosystem recovery. The report confirms observations of many landowners in the Upper Klamath Basin: the regulatory approach of implementing the ESA, as opposed to the use of incentives that would encourage landowners to promote the welfare of species, is viewed by landowners as more "stick" than "carrot".
The Family Farm Alliance strongly affirms the goals of the ESA. However, this 30-year old law could stand some targeted reforms, including common-sense changes to make it work better, encourage incentive-driven recovery efforts, and discourage litigation. TESRA comes at the right time and is a step in the right direction towards meeting these necessary improvements. We are pleased that Congress is going to take a hard look at how to make the Endangered Species Act work better for all concerned.
Dan Keppen (Klamath Falls) has over 16 years of water resources engineering and policy experience in the Western United States. He is currently Executive Director of the Family Farm Alliance, a grass-roots organization that advocates for family farmers, ranchers, irrigation districts, and allied industries in seventeen Western states. The Alliance is focused on one mission - To ensure the availability of reliable, affordable irrigation water supplies to Western farmers and ranchers.
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