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Endangered Species Act Reform Past Due

by Frank Priestley
Idaho Farm Bureau News, September, 2001

In the past few months the Endangered Species Act has driven 1,400 family farms in the Klamath Basin to the brink of bankruptcy and is indirectly responsible for the death of four firefighters in Washington State. Who will it destroy next?

"Saved the spotted owl, saved the fish, lost the farm," was a poignant message displayed by a Klamath Basin farmer during a recent rally. Farm Bureau supports the recovery of endangered species and we realize the Act has helped bring back some animal populations. But unless we can find compromises that bring common sense into the process, the letters ESA will continue to spell disaster for agriculture, mining, timber and all other industries that rely on natural resources.

In May, the American Farm Bureau Federation testified before a senate committee urging a re-evaluation of the Endangered Species Act in hopes of incorporating more balance and common sense. At that time, the main concern was the harm the act has imposed on farm and ranch families who tend the land where so many species live.

Reform is a difficult principle for our political system to deal with - just ask John McCain. Problems that inherently beg for common sense and timely solutions often languish for years.

ESA reform is a tough nut to crack, and we don't disagree with the fact that all species have their place on this planet. when one of them disappears, there are often serious repercussions.

But, it seems absurd to put the livelihoods of 1,400 families at risk to save a fish that has evolved through thousands of years of droughts and floods; or to fail to save a fire crew because we aren't sure if we can use water for a river that is habitat for an endangered fish. People and their interests need to become a bigger part of the equation. The fundamental question comes down to how we decide what criteria will be used to conclude what it's worth or what we will give up to save an animal. Based on the events of this summer and the recent past in dealing with wolves, spotted owls and various others, it doesn't seem like us humans - especially those of us who live out West - are getting a fair shake.

The endangered species issue and the difficulties surrounding reforming the ESA are only going to become more prominent as time passes. Some people believe that in time the salmon situation will escalate to a point where the controversy with most other species' seems small and that's a sour note for producers and landowners in the Pacific Northwest. But remember, our forefathers taught us that it takes patriotism to bring about change.

Note: We have received positive feedback from readers about last month's column - D-A-M Spells Drought Relief. Increasing our state's water storage capacity is and will continue to be a top priority for Idaho Farm Bureau.

Frank Priestley, IFBF President
Endangered Species Act Reform Past Due
Idaho Farm Bureau News - page 2, September, 2001

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