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Species act hearing first in a series
Herald and News June 18, 2004



When members of the U.S. House Resources Committee meet in Klamath Falls next month, they will kick off a series of hearings focused on reforming the Endangered Species Act, Rep. Greg Walden says.

"It's never been modernized, never been updated," said Walden, a Republican and a member of the Resources Committee. His district includes Klamath and Lake counties.

He said the Klamath Falls hearing will focus on what is working and what is not with the 30-year old act. He said he proposed a hearing in Klamath Falls because of the impact of the Endangered Species Act, which protects suckers in Upper Klamath Lake and coho salmon in the Klamath River, and the water shutoff of 2001.

"What happened in the Klamath Basin is a perfect example of why we need to modernize the ESA," Walden said.

Titled, "The Endangered Species Act 30 Years Later: The Klamath Project," the hearing is set for 9 a.m. July 17 in Klamath Falls. The location and the list of witnesses the committee is inviting is expected to be announced next week.

The hearing also follows a string of such hearings in recent years in places where the act has caused controversy, including one in Klamath Falls in June 2001 that featured six members of Congress, four of them members Resources Committee.

Other places and issues visited in the past several years include San Diego and sand dune recreation and New Mexico and the silvery minnow, an endangered species in the middle of a water use battle.

Since the June 2001 hearing in Klamath Falls, legislators such as Walden have pushed bills calling for the addition of peer review and other reforms of the ESA. Congress hasn't passed Walden's peer review measure, echoed in the Senate by a bill proposed by Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith.

Over the 30 years of the ESA, Walden said, many have set out to change the law, but failed because they tried to change all of the act at once and didn't focus on specific problems.

Now, he said, lawmakers are doing that and hearings, like the one set for July, will help refine what problems need to be focused on first. His bill, HR 1662, zeros in on peer view and evaluation of science.

On April 28, Rep. Richard Pombo of California, the chair of the committee who will most likely lead the July hearing, marked the 30th anniversary of the ESA by saying it is more clear than ever that it has failed.

"Unintended consequences have rendered this a broken law that checks species in for conservation and recovery, but never checks them out," he said in a press release issued that day. "Congress has a responsibility to improve the ESA, to focus our effort on results for species recovery, and that begins here at the Resources Committee."

The 2001 hearing in Klamath Falls sparked a call from lawmakers for peer review of the science that supports the ESA and the decisions that result from it.

President Richard Nixon signed the act into law in 1973, giving the federal government the authority to identify endangered and threatened species and then have the means to conserve and recover their ecosystems to revive their populations.

The act has failed to do this, says Pombo, a California Republican who represents San Joaquin County an parts of Almeda, Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties and has been on a crusade to reform the ESA for almost a decade.

In the April press release, he said that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service statistics show that only 12 of the 1300 species put under ESA protection have recovered.





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