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Pombo Coalition Sends Endangered Species Reform Bill to the House Floor

The House Committee on Resources overwhelmingly approved the Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act (TESRA) of 2005 by a vote of 26-12 last Thursday just four days after it was introduced. The measure, several years in the making, was backed by a bipartisan coalition led by Resources Committee Chairman Richard W. Pombo (R-CA), Reps. Dennis Cardoza (D-CA), Greg Walden (R-OR) and George Radanovich (R-CA).

The legislation to reform the 32-year old endangered species law was expected to go to the floor of the House this week. Supporters, including land owners and land users such as the oil and gas industry, claim the original endangered species measure needs fixing because it has failed to actually protect the endangered species while imposing burdensome regulations on land use.

TESRA (H.R. 3824) would provide focus, incentives and accountability, as well as strengthening scientific standards, creating bigger roles for state and local governments, protecting private property owners and eliminating dysfunctional critical habitat designations, the supporters said at a news briefing in California when the bill was introduced last Monday.

"After three decades of implementation, the ESA [Endangered Species Act] has only recovered 10 of the roughly 1,300 species on its list," Pombo said. "What it has done instead is create conflict, bureaucracy and rampant litigation. It's time to do better. Without meaningful improvements, the ESA will remain a failed managed care program that checks species in but never checks them out. This bill will remove the impediments to cooperation that have prevented us from achieving real results for species recovery in the last 30 years."

"Over the past 30 years since its introduction, the Endangered Species Act has gone far off course from its original intent," Cardoza said. "Today, lawsuits and court mandates dictate species recovery, not science. This new bill puts more resources towards recovering species while at the same time creating transparency for those landowners whose land may be needed for species conservation."

"It's time to make the federal agencies charged with administering this law open up their process to the public," Oregon's Walden said. "It's time to set standards to make sure the data they use represent the best scientific data available. It's time to reach out to private property owners and states to protect their rights and encourage their participation in recovery efforts."

Support for new legislation is coming mainly from westerners, both surface landowners and those seeking mineral rights, who claim the operation of the law is far more costly than Congress originally intended and is misdirected and driven by lawsuits rather than by scientific evaluations of species and effective programs.

The House Resources Committee website features an extensive, in-depth report on the operation of the ESA prepared for the committee. Its recommendations include forming a meaningful distinction between threatened and endangered species based on more rigorous criteria, and increasing the focus on relatively more unique animals and plants. The delisting mechanism should be simplified; some species listed on the basis of erroneous data or which already are extinct should be delisted, the report says (see NGI, Sept. 5).

Reform measures passed by the House last year failed to make it through the Congress, but sponsors said they were setting the stage for this year's action (see NGI, July 26, 2004). This year's measure also has a cadre of supporters in the Senate.

Other original House cosponsors of TESRA, H.R. 3824 include on the Republican side: Reps. Barbara Cubin (WY), Jim Gibbons (NV), Cathy McMorris (WA), Henry Brown (SC) and Sam Graves (MO). Besides Cardoza, Democrats include Reps. Marion Berry (AR), Mike Ross (AR), Joe Baca (CA), Bennie Thompson (MS) and Jim Costa (CA).

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