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Commentaries and editorials

Time to Make ESA Reform High Priority

by Editors
Capital Press, February 9, 2007

Farmers and ranchers have a lot of friends these days. Now that the Bush administration has laid its proposal for a new farm bill on the table in Washington, D.C., many members of Congress have sponsored hearings, forums and meetings on the legislation.

Folks like Washington Sen. Patty Murray of Seattle, California Rep. Sam Farr of Salinas and Portland Rep. Earl Blumenauer have had hearings on the proposal. The reason for these hearings, they say, is to hear what agriculture wants and needs in the new farm bill.

If Congress wants to help farmers and ranchers, why wait for the new farm bill? Why not fix a law that has created an egregious burden on farmers and ranchers around the nation? Why not address a serious problem now instead of waiting for this summer's debate on the new farm bill?

The Endangered Species Act has been called many things, most of which cannot be printed in a family newspaper. It has been an anvil around the neck of farmers and ranchers for more than 30 years, since President Richard Nixon signed it into law. It alone created the 2001 Klamath Falls water crisis and has squandered billions of tax dollars.

More than anything else, it is ineffective. In the past three decades, of about 1,300 species listed as endangered or threatened, only 19 have been taken off the endangered species list, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Nine of these species went extinct.

Yet Congress, with the exception of a few brave members, has been unwilling to repair this law.

Here's why. The ESA has been elevated to scriptural status by environmental groups and others who use it to stop activities of which they disapprove. This includes building and maintaining much-needed hydroelectric dams and using some pesticides that improve productivity and prevent the spread of insects and diseases that damage the environment. It also includes activities as innocent as grazing cattle.

Using this law as a blunt legal instrument, these groups try to force farmers and ranchers from the land by declaring land and streams to be critical habitat for birds, fish and even butterflies.

Last year, several members of the U.S. House offered a modest proposal to improve the ESA. It would have helped create cooperative efforts between federal agencies and farmers and ranchers to protect and help bring endangered species back from the brink of extinction.

The House bill would also call for peer review of scientific findings so that temporary conditions are not misinterpreted. Peer review is a common practice in the scientific community, yet it is feared in the political community because it may counter the goals of some special interest groups.

Even that modest proposal created casualties. Environmentalists targeted U.S. Rep. Richard Pombo, a California Republican and chairman of the House Resources Committee, during last fall's general election. He was the only one of 19 Republican committee chairman to lose his bid for re-election.

Because of the political risks involved in reforming the ESA, Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, who co-sponsored the legislation, predicted the bill is "road kill" in the Democratic House.

Some in the Senate, however, have not given up hope. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, last week introduced the Endangered Species Recovery Act. The bill would make landowners eligible for tax credits if they own habitat or incur costs to recover species and are a party to a recovery agreement with a federal agency.

Co-sponsors include both Republicans and Democrats, including heavy hitters such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana, but the bill is likely to encounter heavy opposition in the Democrat-dominated Senate.

If they really want to help farmers and ranchers, the self-described friends of agriculture holding the farm bill hearings should first apply more urgency and support to finally fix the Endangered Species Act.

Time to Make ESA Reform High Priority
Capital Press, February 9, 2007

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