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Issue Date: July 21, 2004
By Christine Souza
Assistant Editor California Farm Bureau Ag Alert

Klamath ESA Congressional Hearing

Several hundred people met in Klamath Falls, Ore., on Saturday for a
congressional field hearing where legislators discussed the pros and cons of
the Endangered Species Act and the act's impact on the Klamath Project, one
of the nation's oldest federal irrigation projects.
"Thirty years ago, Congress had the best of intentions when it passed the
ESA. In 30 years, only seven species of 1,300 have been recovered and those
are mainly due to other conservation laws. That means that the ESA has a
success rate of less than 1 percent," said Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona,
chairman of House Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power. "Today
represents a historic opportunity to right the wrongs of the past and bring
about positive change for the benefit of the American people and wildlife.
We can bring the ESA into the 21st century while helping communities in the
Klamath Basin have economic and water certainty."
Members of the House Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power, including
Congressmen Wally Herger, R-Chico; John Doolittle, R-Granite Bay; George
Radanovich, R-Mariposa; and Greg Walden, R-Oregon, met in Klamath Falls for
the oversight field hearing on "The Endangered Species Act 30 Years Later:
The Klamath Project."
Members of the subcommittee and invited witnesses discussed the application
of the ESA and possible scientific solutions to updating and improving the
act. During the hearing the subcommittee also addressed the National Academy
of Sciences report which may serve as a blueprint for change in the Klamath
Basin and the nation.
"The field hearing is a great forum to focus the spotlight on preventing
another injustice like the one that occurred in 2001 in the Klamath Basin,"
said Dan Keppen, Klamath Water Users Association executive director.
"Constructive approaches can be taken to move in a new direction, and the
road map that can take us there is the (National Academy of Sciences)
report."
The Klamath Project was the subject of international coverage in 2001 when
ESA regulations protecting suckerfish and coho salmon forced the bulk of the
project to virtually shut down its water delivery system for almost the
entire growing season. This action left 1,400 farm families without water
for their crops and many were forced to go out of business. Local business
leaders estimate that the termination of water deliveries in 2001 inflicted
$200 million worth of economic damage on the Klamath Basin community.
The National Academy of Sciences report on Klamath River fish, completed
last year, questions some of the underlying endangered species science
behind the water shutoff of 2001. The report also recommends a
watershed-wide approach to solving the fishery challenges of the Klamath
Basin in its solution, Keppen said.
Since the Klamath Project water shutoff of 2001, the ESA of 1973, meant to
protect species in danger of becoming extinct, has been at the heart of the
controversy in the struggle for water among farmers, environmentalists,
Native American tribes and fishermen. The controversy was still evident on
Saturday as varying interests came together for a rally outside the Ross
Ragland Theater just prior to the hearing.
Comprised of farmers and other community members, the group outside the
theater was peaceful as they listened to speakers talk about the need to
revamp the ESA. But the peaceful mood at the rally changed when members of
the Klamath tribes marched loudly toward the front of the theater, sounding
drums and shouting over those speaking in front of the theater. Nonetheless,
invited speakers continued to deliver their messages about the ESA.
California Farm Bureau Federation President Bill Pauli was one of about 10
speakers at the rally, as well as Oregon Farm Bureau Federation President
Barry Beshue. Pauli emphasized the need for interested parties to work
together.
"It is great that we can be here to talk about the issues that all affect us
collectively. As farmers and ranchers, and as Native Americans, I think we'd
rather not be here today. We'd rather be back home with our families," Pauli
said. "It is important that we be part of the process because through the
process we will come together to find a solution to protect species, recover
species and have jobs and opportunity for all of us in our community."
Part of the solution, Pauli said, is using science and peer review to
improve the recovery of a species.
"The actions that we have taken in the Klamath Basin and the subsequent
National Academy of Sciences analysis highlight the need to reconcile the
ESA's legal framework and its scientific foundation," Pauli said. "According
to the NAS, the current structure of the ESA creates a situation where the
agencies, those people from outside of our communities, can make ESA
decisions that satisfy the demands of the ESA with an analysis that would
not satisfy the demands of scientific review or peer review that is needed
in modern science today. The Klamath Basin provides a unique opportunity to
utilize the best science and the best minds to represent all of us to find
common solutions for species, people-including tribes and farmers and
ranchers."
When polled individually, every witness on the hearing panel agreed that
peer review is necessary.
Jim Lecky of the National Marine Fisheries Service and Steve Thompson, U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service regional director, both acknowledged that as the
ESA is currently implemented, the agencies are making decisions that are not
necessarily science based.
"These (ESA decisions) aren't scientific decisions necessarily. We are often
required to make decisions in the absence of science," Lecky said.
"There's no reason why we can't acquire by law independent, peer-reviewed
science for every major aspect of the ESA and use that science to make the
best informed decisions in the decision-making process," Calvert said.
"Everyone should support this effort if they truly care about protecting and
recovering endangered species."
"There needs to be outside independent peer review of decisions to list or
delist a species, work on recovery programs and consultations. We do this
(peer review) in many areas. The Food and Drug Administration has 30 peer
review groups," Walden added.
Walden stated that some indicate that peer review would be too costly to
implement. The question of whether peer review should be required was posed
to William Lewis, who chaired the National Research Council's Committee on
Endangered and Threatened Fishes in the Klamath River Basin.
Lewis expressed that he does not believe every decision needs to be peer
reviewed, but added a fresh pair of eyes would be beneficial to see if the
agency is headed down the right track. The difficulty, Lewis said, is
agencies are often required by law to make a decision where there is no
scientific information at all.
Dave Vogel, Natural Resource Scientists Inc. senior scientist, who has
worked on the fisheries issues of the Klamath Basin for a number of years,
gave his thoughts about independent peer review.
"Biological opinions are inconsistently applied throughout the United
States. Peer review would be a tremendous start," Vogel said.
In the Klamath Basin, the science associated with the species evolved, but
the ESA did not adapt or incorporate that science, Vogel said.
"At the time of the 1988 listing of the suckers as endangered species, the
information on population status, geographic distribution and recruitment
was either in error or the sucker population has demonstrated a remarkable
improvement over the past decade. I believe it was a combination of both,"
Vogel said. "The two sucker populations are now conclusively known to be
much greater in size, demonstrating major increases in recruitment, and are
found over a much broader geographic range than originally reported in the
1988 ESA listing notice. Despite this indisputable empirical evidence,
current implementation of the ESA does not provide the flexibility necessary
to down-list or delist the species."
Deb Crisp, Tulelake Growers Association executive director, attended the
field hearing and said she believes it was a great success.
"The hearing brought to light the devastation to rural communities that can
be caused by the abuse of the Endangered Species Act. I believe it is a goal
of the committee to implement constructive changes to the ESA that protect
species but allows agriculture to provide a safe domestic food supply,"
Crisp said. "I hope our members of Congress can now go back and influence
their fellow representatives to pass Greg Walden's bill, HR 1662, which
calls for independent peer review."

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

 

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