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Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Time to make ESA reform high priority, Capital Press 3/12/07
followed by Thompson launches species recovery bill, The Times-Standard 03/09/2007

Farmers and ranchers have a lot of friends these days. Now that the Bush administration has laid its proposal for a new farm bill on the table in Washington, D.C., many members of Congress have sponsored hearings, forums and meetings on the legislation.

Folks like Washington Sen. Patty Murray of Seattle, California Rep. Sam Farr of Salinas and Portland Rep. Earl Blumenauer have had hearings on the proposal. The reason for these hearings, they say, is to hear what agriculture wants and needs in the new farm bill.

If Congress wants to help farmers and ranchers, why wait for the new farm bill? Why not fix a law that has created an egregious burden on farmers and ranchers around the nation? Why not address a serious problem now instead of waiting for this summer's debate on the new farm bill?

The Endangered Species Act has been called many things, most of which cannot be printed in a family newspaper. It has been an anvil around the neck of farmers and ranchers for more than 30 years, since President Richard Nixon signed it into law. It alone created the 2001 Klamath Falls water crisis and has squandered billions of tax dollars.

More than anything else, it is ineffective. In the past three decades, of about 1,300 species listed as endangered or threatened, only 19 have been taken off the endangered species list, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Nine of these species went extinct.

Yet Congress, with the exception of a few brave members, has been unwilling to repair this law.

Here's why. The ESA has been elevated to scriptural status by environmental groups and others who use it to stop activities of which they disapprove. This includes building and maintaining much-needed hydroelectric dams and using some pesticides that improve productivity and prevent the spread of insects and diseases that damage the environment. It also includes activities as innocent as grazing cattle.

Using this law as a blunt legal instrument, these groups try to force farmers and ranchers from the land by declaring land and streams to be critical habitat for birds, fish and even butterflies.

Last year, several members of the U.S. House offered a modest proposal to improve the ESA. It would have helped create cooperative efforts between federal agencies and farmers and ranchers to protect and help bring endangered species back from the brink of extinction.

The House bill would also call for peer review of scientific findings so that temporary conditions are not misinterpreted. Peer review is a common practice in the scientific community, yet it is feared in the political community because it may counter the goals of some special interest groups.

Even that modest proposal created casualties. Environmentalists targeted U.S. Rep. Richard Pombo, a California Republican and chairman of the House Resources Committee, during last fall's general election. He was the only one of 19 Republican committee chairman to lose his bid for re-election.

Because of the political risks involved in reforming the ESA, Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, who co-sponsored the legislation, predicted the bill is "road kill" in the Democratic House.

Some in the Senate, however, have not given up hope. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, last week introduced the Endangered Species Recovery Act. The bill would make landowners eligible for tax credits if they own habitat or incur costs to recover species and are a party to a recovery agreement with a federal agency.

Co-sponsors include both Republicans and Democrats, including heavy hitters such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana, but the bill is likely to encounter heavy opposition in the Democrat-dominated Senate.

If they really want to help farmers and ranchers, the self-described friends of agriculture holding the farm bill hearings should first apply more urgency and support to finally fix the Endangered Species Act.


Thompson launches species recovery bill

The Times-Standard 03/09/2007

Reps. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, and Don Young, R-Alaska, Thursday introduced the Endangered Species Recovery Act, which would provide landowners with tax incentives if they agree to implement species recovery plans.

”Americans have always loved the great outdoors for our country's diversity of fish and wildlife,” said Thompson. “We should do everything we can to provide incentives to landowners to help recover our endangered and threatened species. This bill will help the government create positive partnerships with landowners to implement effective recovery plans nationwide.”

To qualify for the tax incentives, landowners must demonstrate that animals listed as endangered or threatened live or migrate through their property. The landowner also must implement a government-approved recovery plan designed to reverse the decline of the listed species.

”For too long, private property owners have suffered under the Endangered Species Act,” said Young. “An overwhelming majority of these owners are strong conservationists who want to help in the recovery of species but they have been the victims of the restrictions mandated by the original law. This is a fair bill that works in the best interests of landowners and our threatened and endangered species. It's truly a bi-partisan, multi-interest bill that will help attain our goals of treating property owners fairly and safeguarding species that need their land for their recovery.” Landowners can qualify under the Endangered Species Recovery Act by agreeing to implement land management practices that coincide with pre-approved species recovery plans. The agreements must include a schedule, deadline and monitoring system.

Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Mike Crapo, D-Idaho, introduced companion legislation in the Senate last week.

The Endangered Species Recovery Act has been endorsed by dozens of wildlife conservation and sporting organizations, including the American Sportfishing Association, Ducks Unlimited, Trout Unlimited, Environmental Defense, National Wildlife Federation, Defenders of Wildlife, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and the National Endangered Species Act Reform Coalition. The American Farm Bureau also supports this bill.

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