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Forum elicits criticism of Endangered Species Act

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.”



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