Forum Elicits Criticism of
by Steve Brown
Representatives of a wide range of interests roundly criticized the Endangered Species Act at a forum led by two members of Congress.
The federal Endangered Species Act came under intense criticism from several directions during an Oct. 10 forum in Washington, D.C.
Several speakers focused on how the ESA has impacted their communities economically.
Dan Keppen, from the Family Farm Alliance in Klamath Falls, Ore., said 500,000 acres of prime farmland could lie idle next year. Because of back-room settlements with advocacy groups, he said, water supplies are being curtailed to meet the needs of listed species instead of farmers and ranchers.
"Our farmers' national efforts to keep food affordable, while meeting increased global demands, may all be threatened if we don't change how the ESA is implemented, and soon," Keppen said.
U.S. Reps. Doc Hastings of Washington state and Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming invited representatives from a wide range of interests to comment on the law.
Joe Hopkins, president of the Forest Landowners Association in Folkston, Ga., expressed his frustration with the law's protection of red-cockaded woodpeckers. Because he was barred from salvaging timber after a fire in March 2000, he lost tens of thousands of dollars a year in income.
"Birds own my timber," he told the congressmen.
Other speakers reported on how the natural environment has suffered.
Mike Wood, from Local 3074 of the Carpenters Industrial Council in Chester, Calif., said the act leads to a U.S. Forest Service policy that favors catastrophic fires. Leaving forests unnaturally overstocked poses dangers to humans and to species the ESA is trying to protect.
Hastings pointed out that the House recently passed a Healthy Forests Initiative that sets target limits on harvesting, allows more local control on leases and timber sales and allows communities to salvage after a fire.
Concerns over litigation brought out the most pointed reactions.
Myron Ebell, from the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., said he saw the ESA from the perspective of a ranching family in Eastern Oregon. He called the law "a guided missile" that environmental groups use to destroy industries.
"The ESA is not a law, but an authority has been used in arbitrary, capricious ways," he said. "It's a looming disaster for rural America."
Matt Hite, from U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said groups use the tactic of "sue and settle" to shape the agendas of regulatory agencies. That has resulted in 100 new federal laws at a cost of $100 million a year.
Calling the ESA a "command-and-control D.C.-centric statute," Roger Marzulla, a D.C. attorney, said it would be improved by recognizing that states are more familiar with the challenges to their species.
He described a conservation agreement in Texas, where 250,000 acres of the oil-rich Permian Basin will be enhanced to benefit the dunes sagebrush lizard. He called the cooperative effort a model for amending the federal act, "but now it's under attack."
Lummis also called for cooperation in reviewing the ESA.
"We will never make progress on creating a 21st Century conservation ethic supported by everyone if we are unwilling to sit across the table and discuss what has worked, and yes -- not worked -- in species conservation," she said.
Hastings said he had invited representatives from WildEarth Guardians, Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity, "but they said they didn't want to attend."
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) Congressional Working Group, led by Representatives Doc Hastings (WA-04) and Cynthia Lummis (WY-at large), will hold a forum on Thursday, October 10th at 11:30 AM entitled "Reviewing 40 Years of the Endangered Species Act and Seeking Improvement for People and Species."
The forum will feature a diverse group of invited stakeholders who will testify on all angles of the ESA, its impacts on species and people over the last 40 years, and potential improvements going forward. Members of the Working Group will use the forum as an opportunity to examine how to measure ESA progress; how to define success; if the ESA is working to achieve its goals; the impacts of litigation; the role of state and local governments in recovering species; the need for public engagement and input; and more.
"One of the fundamental purposes of the Endangered Species Act Working Group is to hear from everyone -- all sides and all opinions -- about aspects of the law that can be improved to better serve both species and people. We've invited witnesses from all across the country to participate in this forum and I hope to have a fair, honest and lively conversation about the Endangered Species Act," said Hastings.
"The mere mention of the Endangered Species Act is enough to raise the blood pressure of passionate people from many backgrounds, all of whom care deeply about the protection of truly endangered species. We will never make progress on creating a 21st Century conservation ethic supported by everyone if we are unwilling to sit across the table and discuss what has worked, and yes -- not worked -- in species conservation. I look forward to hearing the widely diverse opinions on ESA that will be represented at the forum next week," said Lummis.
WHAT: Endangered Species Act Congressional Working Group Forum on "Reviewing 40 Years of the Endangered Species Act and Seeking Improvement for People and Species"
Participants to be announced.
WHEN: Thursday, October 10th 11:30 AM -- 2:00 PM
WHERE: 1300 Hearing Room in the Longworth House Office Building
The Endangered Species Act Working Group is comprised of Members of Congress from all across the country whose goal is to invite discussion and input on ways in which the ESA (last reauthorized in 1988) may be working well, how it could be updated, and how to boost its effectiveness for both people and species. Visit esaworkinggroup.hastings.house.gov for more information.
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