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It’s time to fix Endangered Species Act

If ever there was a law in need of revision, it is the federal Endangered Species Act. Few, if any, federal laws have ever been so misused, misinterpreted or misunderstood.

When Congress originally passed it in 1973, the Act’s mission was to rescue major species from the brink of extinction. At that time 108 species were listed. The idea was to identify endangered and threatened species and their habitat and manage them in a way that allowed them to recover and flourish.

That goal was certainly worthy of support, but in all but a handful of cases, it hasn’t happened.

Instead, the Endangered Species Act has taken on a whole new role.

As it is applied today, the law is a blunt instrument that has been used against farmers, ranchers, loggers and others to halt activities and developments that don’t meet the wishes of certain litigious special-interest groups.

In the name of fish, many farms, ranches and irrigation projects have been threatened or damaged. In the name of birds, timber operations have been hobbled or halted.

Instead of protecting endangered species, the law is used as a lever to dictate the management of public and private lands. Judges have replaced professional land managers as the final arbiter of what is best for a certain species, watershed or region.

After all of the lawsuits and billions of dollars that have been drained from the pocketbooks of farmers, ranchers, timber operators and the public, one would hope that many species have been rescued from extinction.

Hardly. During the past 32 years about 1,300 species have been listed as endangered or threatened. Of that number only six have recovered, according to the National Endangered Species Act Reform Coalition. Only 19 others have been taken off the list, either because of errors in the data used for the original listing or because they were extinct.

Yet the number of endangered or threatened species grows. In California, 293 species are listed. In Oregon, 48 are listed. In Washington, 37 are listed. And in Idaho, 22 are listed, according to the Endangered Species Act Reform Coalition.

Considering how the Endangered Species Act is applied, its outcome and its stratospheric costs, one conclusion is inescapable: The law is broken, and Congress needs to fix it. It’s time to refocus the Endangered Species Act so it can accomplish what Congress originally intended.

That is the goal of legislation announced this week by Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy; Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore.; and Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced.

Called the “Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act of 2005,” the bill, House Resolution 3824, would insert cooperation and accountability into the formula for helping endangered species recover.

Among its provisions, the bill provides a framework for helping private landowners to obtain monetary help and training to protect and restore key habitat.

“The protection of species is a matter of public interest and is guided by laws of the federal government,” said Walden in announcing the bill. “We should not expect private landowners to bear the full cost of recovery efforts.”

In addition, the bill would compensate landowners for the loss in fair market value caused when the use of that property is restricted in a way that could be defined as a “taking.”

The farmers and ranchers in southern Oregon and northern California know about taking. In 2001, the federal government, in the name of the Endangered Species Act, took away water that had been allocated for their farms and ranches.

“The Klamath Basin is ground zero in the fight to improve the Endangered Species Act,” Pombo said this week.  “People throughout the area, and in many other parts of America, have been affected by this law’s dangerous, unintended consequences.”

Now is the time to make sure the people of the Klamath Basin – or any other area, for that matter – are never again victimized by the Endangered Species Act.

Now is the time to make sure the good intentions of the Endangered Species Act are never again twisted to manage public land from a courtroom.

Now is the time to stop the waste of billions of dollars.

And now is the time to repair a law that can be described only one way: broken.




Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:15 AM  Pacific

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