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For Immediate Release
Wednesday, July 21, 2004
 Brian Kennedy

Committee Votes to Modernize Endangered Species Act

Washington, DC - Today the House Committee on Resources passed two bills integral to the effort of modernizing the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Specifically, the committee approved H.R. 2933, the Critical Habitat Reform Act, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-CA) and H.R. 1662, the Sound Science for ESA Planning Act, sponsored by Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR).

Signed into law 30 years ago by President Nixon, the ESA was intended to conserve and recover species identified as threatened or endangered to healthy populations. The mechanics of the ESA have not been updated since. After thirty years, the law has recovered 12 of 1300 listed species, for a cumulative success rate of .01% (or a 99.99% rate of failure), even under the Fish and Wildlife Service's own, optimistic reading. Nine species have gone extinct. More than a dozen were listed due to data errors and subsequently removed.

"Despite this law's noble intent, the ESA has recovered less than one percent of the species on its list in the last thirty years," Chairman Richard W. Pombo (R-CA) said. "Unintended consequences have rendered it a failed managed-care program that checks species in, but never checks them out. These bills will modernize the law to improve our results for recovery, and in that regard, there is certainly nowhere to go but up."

"Some have asserted that these bills would somehow gut or weaken the Endangered Species Act," Pombo continued. "To them I ask, how could we possibly make this law any weaker than its unintended consequences have - and its results show - over the last thirty years? A few environmental groups may have a financial stake in the status quo, but clearly, species recovery is what is at stake if we do not modernize this law for the 21st century. We must put the rhetoric aside, come together, and address these problems. The bipartisan support for these bills today is an indication that we are beginning to do just that."

The Cardoza legislation adjusts the arbitrary and now-untenable deadline under which the FWS is required to designate critical habitat, giving the agency more time to collect useable data. This will also reduce the overwhelming volume of the frivolous litigation filed under the ESA, litigation that forces our biologists out of the field and into the courthouse. It corrects the dysfunctional critical habitat designation process, linking it to the species recovery planning process, and integrating the data accumulated in that process. The result will be a greater focus on species recovery under the Act and improvement of the abysmal .01% success rate.

"We are reforming a flawed process responsibly with bipartisan support," Rep. Cardoza said. "Today's passage brings us one step closer to making critical habitat designations work."

The Walden legislation would strengthen the scientific foundation of species recovery efforts by integrating a peer-review tool into ESA decision-making processes. Unlike laws such as the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and a host of laws that affect the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Education, and the Department of Labor, and the Department of Commerce (to name a few), the ESA currently has NO peer review requirement. The absence of peer review explains the overwhelming record of inaccurate data - and data errors - under the ESA. Peer review is a standard scientific safeguard, but has somehow never been integrated into Washington's solution for recovering endangered species.

"I am proud that H.R. 1662 is moving forward and appreciate the support shown by my colleagues," said Rep. Greg Walden. "By modernizing the 30-year-old ESA to include field-testing and peer review, we can ensure that sweeping policy decisions are based on sound science, representing the best interests of species, people and communities. Peer review is a practice used by the FDA, medical and scientific journals, Health & Human Services and the Department of Education. It just makes sense that we employ the same practice when talking about decisions that could drastically impact entire species."

Rep. George Radanovich (R-CA):

"The ESA is not sacrosanct. It is a law that has been around for 30 years and has yet to make significant gains toward recovering species. The bills being marked up in Committee today make commonsense changes to the Act by requiring science-based, peer-reviewed listing decisions and establishing a clearer mechanism for designating critical habitat. This is how we can begin recovering species, which is the primary purpose of the Act.

My own San Joaquin Valley district is being confronted with ESA decisions that include fairy shrimp and the Central California tiger salamander, among others, and the local and economic impacts are widespread. Farmers, landowners, small businesses and others cannot continue to endure the uncertainty this Act has caused. That's why these reasonable, balanced bills are so important."

Rep. Jim Gibbons (R-NV):

"The Endangered Species Act was passed as a means to conserve and recover endangered species. Unfortunately, it has not achieved that goal. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, only 12 of the law's roughly 1300 protected species have recovered. That equates to a failure rate of over 99 percent. Now, I realize there are special interest groups who want to blindly protect any government program no matter the success-fail rate, but I challenge anybody to state in all seriousness that the Endangered Species Act has achieved its goal. Commonsense reform to the ESA is necessary to better protect and recover our species, and the reforms discussed today are long-overdue."

Rep. Barbara Cubin (R-WY):

"Too many citizens are shut out of their public and private lands because of the unfair application of the ESA. From the Klamath Falls debacle and the Lynx hoax to the Preble's jumping mouse, the shoddy science collected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may cause many folks to lose some of the use of their lands. It's not unreasonable to expect that the law require a sound scientific basis before restrictions can be placed on thousands of acres of public or private land."

Rep. Dennis Rehberg (R-MT):

"These are common-sense reforms, designed to hold this runaway law accountable to sound science and peer review," said Montana's Congressman, Denny Rehberg, a rancher. "I don't think it's too much to ask that the Environmental Species Act be changed to impose scientific accountability on federal bureaucrats empowered with spending millions of tax dollars to list and control the habitat of whatever species they determine to be threatened."

Rep. Chris Cannon (R-UT):

"All too often the implementation of the ESA has been based on questionable scientific data that have received no independent peer review, causing state and local governments as well as private landowners to bear the burden of unwarranted critical habitat designations. Despite hundreds of lawsuits and other tactics used by extreme environmentalists, we have seen little success in actually recovering species from the Endangered Species List. Clearly, many changes to the ESA and the process for designating critical habitat are needed. It is time to bring science and common sense to the ESA. By allowing local governments and landowners into the designation process, we will reduce the amount of litigation clogging our courtrooms and protect needed areas."

Rep Rick Renzi (R-AZ):

"For more than thirty years, our ranchers, farmers, miners and lumberjacks in rural Arizona have suffered at the expense of an often abused federal endangered species protection law. As a result, hundreds of thousands of jobs have been lost, families forced to move, and once thriving rural communities are now threatened. These vital pieces of legislation will restore a balance to our species protection laws, by preserving our rich rural traditions and local economies and allowing both nature and man to coexist in harmony."

From Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO):

"The serious questions raised about the accuracy of listing and habitat decisions on the Preble's Meadow Jumping Mouse make it clear why these two bipartisan measures are needed. Both go a long way toward modernizing the ESA by introducing better science and common sense to the species conservation process."

Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT):

"The Endangered Species Act was intended to recover species but it doesn't, period. It is broken and needs to be fixed. Endangered species will continue to be endangered if we won't admit this and do something about it. If we have in mind the best interests of the environment and the species the original Act was supposed to protect, this ESA reform legislation will move through the process and become part of the law."


For more information on Modernizing the ESA, read Chairman Richard Pombo's White Paper:
The ESA at 30: A Mandate for Modernization








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