by Pat McCoy
Westerners, particularly the agricultural industry, have sought to reform the Endangered Species Act for years, but they recognize meaningful reform may be a fading dream in the current U.S. Congress.
"Members of Congress have removed themselves from natural resource issues. They're not in tune," said Rick Keller, executive vice president of the Idaho Farm Bureau. "As I listen to the rhetoric, I'm not hopeful that we'll see any meaningful changes. The best we can hope for at present is incremental changes and adjustments."
Requiring that decisions be scientifically based and taking economic considerations into account is the major reform needed, Keller said.
"Take for instance the debate over salmon. Right now, we're not allowed to count hatchery fish, yet they're genetically and scientifically the same fish as those born in the wild," he said.
The connection between water and the ESA is serious, he said. Pollution loading standards are too often extrapolated from certain areas to cover entire streams.
"We need more site-specific, reasonable expectations," said Keller. "Take temperature, for instance. The standards constantly call for lowering temperatures to levels never achieved in certain streams, and they never will be. That puts a strain on the entire system."
The Idaho Farm Bureau wants common-sense, site-specific regulations, he said.
"We've seen some improvement, but it's a struggle, particularly when drought, the weather and other conditions create (conditions) beyond our control," he said. "Farmers and ranchers are being asked to accommodate and rectify things Mother Nature has been doing for centuries."
The Oregon Cattlemen Association supports ESA reform, said Kay Teisl, executive director.
"ESA issues are far reaching. They relate to everything, from grazing to water. That's a huge issue to our industry. It's very important to protect our water rights," she said. "We're constantly fighting efforts to change the regulations or laws.
"ESA is having a huge impact on our ranchers, and their ability to manage their own lands. Anything we can do to make sure things are done based on science rather than emotion would go in the right direction. There are plenty of examples where science has proven cattle aren't a detriment to fish habitat, for instance. Those studies need to be considered before regulations are put in place."
OCA supported most of the reform bills introduced in the last Congress for the most part. Some minor tweakings would have been helpful, but "we have to start somewhere," Teisl said
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