Crapo Introduces Bill that
by Rocky Barker
Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo rolled out his Endangered Species Act reform package Thursday.
The bill, co-sponsored by Arkansas Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln , includes new tax breaks and other incentives for the owners of habitat for endangered species. It also creates a new process for recovering species that empowers a panel of interested parties to develop and approve programs to recover the more than 1,800 endangered plants and animals.
The bill also allows the Interior secretary to prioritize decisions on listing species, designating critical habitat and other measures that currently are required solely on biological standards. It shields federal biologists from lawsuits pushing for immediate listings and designations.
"Collaboration and incentives offered to property owners will be a faster route to recovery of species than litigation in the courts," Crapo said.
Environmental groups generally criticized the bill for reducing habitat protection for endangered species. Farm and industry groups praised its attempt to reward landowners who are good stewards of habitat.
The Endangered Species Act, approved in 1973, has touched the lives of every Idahoan since Snake River salmon were listed in 1991. Pressure to release water for endangered salmon has tightened the water supply for irrigation, power generation and other uses of reservoirs like the Boise River's Lucky Peak and Idaho Power's Hells Canyon dams.
The law reduced timber harvests on national forests, forced farmers to spend millions to protect the habitat of species ranging from slickspot peppergrass to grizzly bears and brought wolves back into the lives of ranchers and hunters.
Crapo's approach will make endangered species assets for landowners instead of liabilities, said John Thompson , an Idaho Farm Bureau spokesman.
"It gives landowners incentives to help preserve endangered species," Thompson said. "It's a step in the right direction and is 180 degrees from where we are right now."
The Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group that has successfully sued to list dozens of species as threatened and endangered, said it worried more about how Crapo's bill will be changed to reconcile its measures with the bill by House Resource Chairman Richard Pombo of California.
Pombo's bill goes farther in requiring the federal government to compensate landowners whose values are reduced because of endangered species.
"Senator Crapo's proposal alone would be a disaster for endangered species conservation," said Melissa Waage legislative advocate for the center. "But the bill introduced today is part of an even bigger plan to gut the Endangered Species Act by teaming up with Rep. Pombo to adopt the worst provisions of Pombo's House bill."
However, Michael Bean , an attorney with Environmental Defense, one of the top experts on the act, said he saw no nefarious intentions in Crapo's proposal. Still, he said, its recovery process and tax incentive programs are confusing and could be read to weaken the act.
"I think there are a lot of problems that could have been avoided with wider vetting," Bean said.
Pombo praised Crapo and Lincoln.
"Senator Crapo and I have been strong allies in updating the ESA in the past, and I look forward to working with him, Senators Lincoln, James Inhofe and Lincoln Chafee as the Senate completes its work on the act's reauthorization," Pombo said.
Crapo and Lincoln said they hoped the bill is a new starting point that brings people from both sides of the issue to complete a bill which has been delayed for nearly 15 years.
"My policy always has been that legislation is not a work of art but a work in progress," Lincoln said.
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