Hope Seen for Reform of U.S. Endangered Species Actby Chip Power, California Staff Writer
Capital Press, December 31, 2004
A loud debate looms over reshaping the nation’s predominant endangered species law.
“Congressional Republicans have made ‘reform’ a top priority,” the San Francisco-based Natural Resources Defense Council said, “and a full assault on the Endangered Species Act is expected.”
House and Senate Republicans have said they are upbeat that they can enact major changes to a law that many farmers and ranchers say doesn’t do what it was supposed to do and is misused by critics of any development.
“I see this as one of the best opportunities we’ve had to achieve some common-sense reform,” Brian Kennedy, a spokesman for House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo, R-Calif, said in a statement.
Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, chairman of the subcommittee with oversight of the endangered-species law, have maintained that environmental law reform is a top priority.
The ESA was passed by Congress in 1973 to prevent the loss of biodiversity.
The Secretary of Interior has jurisdiction over land species and resident fish but the Secretary of Commerce has the power to list marine organisms or anadromous fish like salmon and steelhead.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service administers the law for the Department of Interior while the National Marine Fisheries Service has jurisdiction over anadromous species.
Since then, the act has been used to challenge irrigation, logging, new dam construction and other human activities, creating economic impacts and a good bit of ill will.
In one of the latest chapters of the ESA saga, Interior Department biologists recently recommended against adding the sage grouse to the endangered species list.
At stake is a bird whose numbers have declined to as few as 142,000, as well as the use of great expanses of Western sagebrush that provide cover and food.
There once may have been as many as 16 million of the birds in North America , the government said.
In an interview with The Associated Press last month, Interior Secretary Gale Norton said, “Lots of people have gotten involved to try to find ways of protecting the sage grouse without having to list it on the endangered species list.”
Sage-grouse are found in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, eastern California, Nevada, Utah, western Colorado, South Dakota and Wyoming.
A coalition of farmers, ranchers, oil and gas developers and other businesses praised the biologists’ recommendation on the bird.
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