report cites program shortfalls.
Following on the heels of a Republican–authorized staff report stating
that the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is not working, bills restructuring
the law are expected to be introduced into the U.S. House and Senate this
Brian Kennedy, communications director for the House Resources Committee,
said, “I can’t give you an exact time line,” but the
committee expects to begin review of proposed legislation this summer
and hopes to send a proposed bill to the full House before the August
On May 17, House Resources Committee Chairman Richard W. Pombo, R-CA,
released a report, Implementation of the Endangered Species Act of 1973,
that said less than one percent of protected species have fully recovered,
while nearly two-thirds have fallen into the categories of uncertain,
declining or possibly extinct. Pombo requested the House Resources Committee’s
Oversight & Investigations staff to research and author the report.
“The Endangered Species Act’s less than one percent success
rate for species recovery is a well-documented and readily-available statistic,
but the status of the remaining species on its list has not been as clear
until now,” Pombo said in a press release. “This exhaustive
review of government data makes it clear the vast majority of these species
have not improved under implementation of current law.”
Environmentalists and other critics say the report overlooks the lengthy
recovery time needed by many species, which often takes decades.
The report disagrees, saying, “From the opposing perspective, while
recovery to the point of delisting may require a substantial amount of
time for many species, after three decades more progress should be demonstrable
through species that have recovered and been delisted. Even if a species
has increased in numbers or distribution or the threats facing the species
have been reduced, if it has not been delisted on the basis of recovery,
the ESA’s prohibitions and regulations remain applicable and the
ESA should not be a ‘oneway street.’”
Critics also say the report looks strictly at the costs of the act and
weighs none of the benefits.
Jamie Rappaport Clark, who oversaw the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
in the Clinton administration, is quoted by several news services as saying
the law is a "remarkable success." She said that just one percent
of listed species have gone extinct.
Those touting the success of the Endangered Species Act point to the bald
eagle, California condor, red and gray wolves, whooping crane, Canadian
lynx and other species as examples of success. Those supporters say hundreds
of species are improving, and some are nearing recovery goals.
The report is not an official House Resources Committee report, but was
undertaken at the request of Pombo, who is expected to introduce legislation
soon. The authorization for the act expired in 1993, but the congress
has appropriated money for it each year since. So, it continues to have
the force of law.
To compile the report, the Republican majority staff researched and reviewed
Federal Register notices for delisted and downlisted species, a decade
of agency expenditure reports, data from the Fish & Wildlife Service
(FWS) and National Marine Fisheries (NMFS), reports to Congress, critical
habitat designation economic impact assessments, agency regulations and
recovery plans, and discussed implementation of the act with federal,
state and local officials. The press release said the committee has never
before conducted such an exhaustive review of ESA implementation.
“The ESA has not achieved its original intent of recovering species,”
Pombo said. “In fact, there is little evidence of progress in the
law’s 30-year history. After reviewing this body of agency information
on the act’s implementation over the years, no reasonable individual
can conclude that the ESA is sustainable in its current form. It checks
species in, but never checks them out.”
The report says that in 30 years only 10 of nearly 1,300 domestic species
have recovered and, in many cases, the ESA was not the primary factor
in the recovery.
Definitions, such as the difference between threatened and engdangered,
are blurred, the report says, as is the definition of critical habitat.
Erroneous data has also affected the implementation of the ESA, according
to the researchers. They said that at least 15 of the 33 domestic species
that have been delisted in the law’s history were removed from the
list because of erroneous data. Errors in data were a contributing factor
in at least 10 of 19 or more than 50 percent of the downlisted domestic
species, according to the report. Money spent by federal, state, and private
parties on species listed because of bad data deprives legitimately endangered
species of protection, the report says.
Litigation is driving the process, according to the report, rather than
science, driving up expenses, protecting species that need no protection
and leaving threatened species unprotected.
Kennedy said the Pombo is personally involved in trying to put together
a bipartisan proposal to reauthorize and restructure ESA.
Representatives of the House committee have been in contact with Senate
staffers, Kennedy said, to try to coordinate the approaches to ESA reauthorization.
Several senators are drafting ESA legislation, but the pace is expected
to be slower than that of the House Resources Committee.
Senate Fisheries, Wildlife and Water Subcommittee Chairman Sen. Lincoln
Chafee, R-RI, is drafting a bipartisan proposal, and the committee held
its first ESA hearing two weeks ago. "I am wading into this apprehensively,”
Chafee, in published reports, said. "I don't want to do anything
to damage or weaken ESA, that is my concern.”
The House Resources Committee report is available at resourcescommittee.house.gov/issues/more/esa/ESA_Implementation_Report5.17.05.pdf
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