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ESA Reform Effort Continues

by Pat McCoy, Staff Writer
Capital Press, December 30, 2005

Congress appears to be on the road to reforming the federal Endangered Species Act, widely praised by some as an environmental godsend and vilified as overly oppressive by others.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act, HR3824, in September.

Earlier this month, U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, introduced S2110, the Collaborative Recovery of the Endangered Species Act, or CRESA.

According to Crapo and co-sponsor Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., a key component of S2110 is incentives to private landowners, including tax breaks and conservation banking.

Conservation banking encourages voluntary conservation efforts and partnerships. It is a market-driven program used successfully in several states that allows landowners to profit from conservation efforts through use of conservation credits, they said.

The proposed tax incentives will reward landowners who help recover species. However, they may mean CRESA will receive a hearing next year before the Senate Finance Committee. Both Crapo and Lincoln are on that committee.

Additionally, there are regulatory incentives for landowners who voluntarily contribute to recovery with simpler procedures and through farm bill programs, they said.

The bill also allows the federal government to prioritize its resources to get funding to the species most in need, while incorporating local input on recovery plans and species recovery teams, Crapo said.

"We must decrease the conflict inherent in present efforts to speed recovery," he said. "Collaboration and incentives offered to property owners will be a faster route to recovery of species than litigation in the courts."

CRESA Provisions

"CRESA allows for innovation, flexibility and the collaborative involvement of many parties, which have proven to be more effective in recovering species," he said.

Lincoln and Crapo co-chaired a bipartisan working group on ESA issues. CRESA came from that working group.

"This is a constructive, bipartisan effort to update a 30-year-old law which has increasingly slowed the recovery of endangered species," Lincoln said. "By encouraging greater involvement between landowners and environmentalists, it is my hope we can minimize litigation and enhance recovery."

TESRA eliminates critical habitat, replacing it with areas of special conservation value identified only in the recovery planning process. It also codifies the concept of no surprises, saying once a deal is struck on recovering species there can be no changes. It also proposes voluntary incentive programs and reviewed recovery planning procedures, according to Richard Agnew, a Boise attorney who addressed the November annual meeting of the Idaho Council on Industry and the Environment.

TESRA also increases the role of states and tribes in the consultation process, establishes data quality requirements and requires consistent standards for the "best available scientific data," Agnew said.

The house bill also compensates landowners for forgone uses of property, after a written determination process to determine if their practices comply with take prohibitions, Agnew said.

The House passed TESRA with 415 favorable votes, but getting it through the Senate is regarded as harder because at least 60 votes will be required. Even so, there is great interest in reforming the ESA. A number of senators have been working on reform bills, including Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., Agnew said.

Crapo's and Lincoln's bill received praise from Rep. Richard W. Pombo, R-Calif., chairman of the House Resources Committee.

"I applaud the efforts of Senators Crapo and Lincoln to improve the ESA. Both have long been proponents of reauthorizing the law," Pombo said.

"When Congress passed this law more than three decades ago it was a first attempt at a species recovery law. Congress very rarely gets anything exactly right the first time around," he said. "Now more than ever we need to bring this 33-year-old law into the 21st century to ensure that America's species have the best chance of recovery."

Lloyd Knight, executive vice president of the Idaho Cattle Association, said he hasn't looked at CRESA in detail, but it's safe to say the proposed reforms are needed.

"We're very supportive of some kind of compensation for landowners who provide habitat and other needed conservation measures," Knight said.

Originally the ESA was meant to be reconsidered every six years. Technically it expired in 1993, but most lawyers say continual appropriations to fund it keep it alive..

Pat McCoy is based in Boise.
ESA Reform Effort Continues
Capital Press, December 30, 2005

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