Pombo on verge of unveiling new species law
Jun 29, 2005
Since coming to Congress in 1992, Rep. Richard
Pombo, R-Tracy, has sought to change the Endangered
Species Act - and now he may finally see the fruits
of his labor.
Pombo's staff at the Resources Committee confirmed
that Committee members will present an ESA reform
bill by mid July.
According to Brian Kennedy, Pombo's Committee
press secretary, the bill will include money or tax
breaks for property owners who lose financially due
to ESA enforcement, as well as a greater role for
states and more rigorous demands on planners for
species recovery. Pombo's name may or may not be on
the bill, Kennedy said.
Such legislation has long been expected.
It comes in the wake of the defeat of two bills in
the previous congressional session. Rep. Dennis
Cardoza's, D-Merced, Critical Habitat Reform Act
would have forced the Fish and Wildlife Service to
give greater weight to economic factors when it
designates critical habitat. Rep. Greg Walden's,
R-Ore., Endangered Species Data Quality Act would
have changed the standards for what types of
scientific measurements can be used in designation
"I can't tell you about the language, but the spirit
of both will be included in the bigger package,"
If the bill's authors really want to provide
incentives and create better science, there might be
hope for consensus, said Andrew Wetzler, senior
attorney for the National Resources Defense Council.
However, Wetzler said the Cardoza and Walden
bills were nothing more than attempts to roll back
the ESA. The Walden bill in particular, he said,
aimed to limit the types of data and population
models scientists were allowed to use.
He also said he was worried about the timing of the
Pombo appeared in February with Senators Lincoln
Chaffee, R-R.I., and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, to tout
the need for ESA reform. The fact that Pombo's seeks
to rush out a bill now, rather than to wait and see
what the Senate comes up with, is probably a bad
sign, Wetzler said.
Wetzler also said that Pombo and others have
willfully represented the goal of the ESA by
focusing on recovery numbers. While only a small
percentage of endangered species have recovered, he
said, the fact that 98 percent of the species are
still around shows a spectacular success.
The ESA already calls for species recovery planning,
he said. The average endangered species has been
listed for only 15 years, Wexler said, but usually
50 years are needed for recovery.
"It's a little like walking into an emergency room
and saying 'There's a bunch of sick people here.
There must be something wrong with this hospital,'"
In recent weeks, subcommittees in the resources
department have held numerous hearings on the Act.
This includes testimony by various business groups
that the Act has harmed the efforts to increase
Property rights groups have long sought changes to
the ESA. Earlier this month, a coalition of 53
groups began to circulate a letter in support of
Pombo's ESA efforts. The letter includes the names
of several prominent activists on the political
right, including Grover Norquist, David Ridenour and
It charges that the ESA has weakened national
security by placing portions of military bases off
limits. It also cited Operation Gatekeeper, a
proposal to put fences and surveillance cameras on a
porous 14-mile section of the Mexican border.
The letter claimed that the project has been held up
for nine years due to the presence of seven species
of endangered birds in the area.
"They've long since forgotten about recovering
species," said Chuck Cushman, executive director of
the American Land Rights Association. "They love it
because it allows them to tie up land."
The ESA often has a negative effect on species,
Cushman said, because many property owners make the
economically rational decision to "shoot, shovel and
shut up" when an endangered species is found on
He cited tree farmers who remove underbrush that
could serve as spotted owl habitat or cut pine trees
before they're mature because they don't want
endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers to move in.