Pombo takes on the Endangered Species Act

‘Critical habitat’ is likely a thing of the past

  • California Reps. Richard Pombo, R, in front, and Dennis Cardoza, D, answer questions about the Endangered Species Recovery Act at a press conference in Sacramento, California.

    AP World Wide
 

For the 12th time in eight years, Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., is attempting to reform one of the nation’s key environmental laws, the Endangered Species Act (HCN, 7/25/05: Will the real Mr. Pombo please stand up?). And this time, the chairman of the House Resource Committee, a strong advocate for private property and business interests, may get what he wants. On Sept. 29, the U.S. House of Representatives approved his "Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act," which proposes far-reaching changes to the law.

Most significantly, Pombo’s bill repeals the requirement to protect "critical habitat" — the home territories of endangered or threatened creatures. It also allows the secretary of the Interior, a political appointee, to determine what science can be used to make decisions about a protected species. And federal agencies and industry may now be allowed to harm imperiled species, through actions such as building roads, without first consulting with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or NOAA Fisheries.

Pombo’s bill requires that recovery plans be developed within two years of a species’ listing; currently, no timeline exists for creating recovery plans. However, the bill says that recovery plans are now "non-regulatory," meaning that they’re no longer enforceable. For recovery on private land, the bill proposes voluntary agreements and federal payments to landowners.

The bill further orders the federal government to compensate property owners who lose land value or potential profit because of the act’s requirements. Federal courts have previously limited compensation for property "takings" to cases where the owner lost all use and benefits of the property — not for partial loss.

Critics have long argued that the Endangered Species Act encourages landowners to "shoot, shovel, and shut up," killing endangered species on their property to avoid potential land-use restrictions. "The only way this is going to work is if we bring in property owners to be part of the solution and to be part of recovering those species," said Pombo during House floor debate.

But the law already has incentives for property owners, says Bob Irvin, vice president of Defenders of Wildlife. Under the Safe Harbor program, for example, landowners who manage for species welfare can avoid more stringent requirements later.

Still, Irvin and many other environmentalists acknowledge that some change is necessary. Shortly after Pombo introduced his bill, they threw their support behind an amendment crafted by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. and Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y.

Like the Pombo bill, the Miller/Boehlert amendment would have eliminated the critical habitat requirement. But the amendment also would have tightened one crucial aspect of the law, by prohibiting federal agencies from carrying out any actions that might make the recovery of a species less likely. The existing law prohibits only those actions that threaten a species’ existence. "(The new rule) would have done more for species recovery than critical habitat ever did," says Michael Bean, an attorney for Environmental Defense.

It almost worked: The Miller/Boehlert bill attracted northeastern Republican support and the endorsement of eight environmental groups, including the American Bird Conservancy, Trout Unlimited and The Wilderness Society. The amendment was narrowly defeated in the House, 216-206. The Pombo measure passed 229-193, with support from 36 Democrats, mostly from rural Western districts.

The debate now moves to the Senate, where Sen. James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., and Sen. Michael D. Crapo, R-Idaho, are working on a bill similar to Pombo’s, which they hope to introduce later this year.

However, Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., has threatened to filibuster any Pombo-style endangered species bill. Chafee says his Fisheries, Wildlife and Water subcommittee will consider its own Endangered Species Act revisions next year, after getting a report on the subject from Colorado’s nonprofit Keystone Center.

On other fronts, Pombo floated draft legislation in September that included provisions to force the sale of 15 national parks and require the Park Service to raise $10 million annually by hawking advertising space on its maps and buses.

Pombo spokesman Brian Kennedy says that those proposals were not meant to be taken seriously. Instead, they appear to be bargaining chips to get drilling access to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Nevertheless, "we view selling parks as a real threat," says Craig Obey, vice president of the National Parks Conservation Association. He fears that a parks sale may reappear in the future, as Congress becomes ever more desperate to fund big-ticket items like the Hurricane Katrina recovery effort and the Iraq war.

The author writes from Lander, Wyoming.

NewTowncarShare News Classifieds
  • The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) seeks a director to lead a nationwide program focused on the protection of U.S. national parks from energy development...
  • Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • Crested Butte Land Trust seeks a development director to lead its fundraising efforts. Remote and unspoiled, Crested Butte is located in one of the Rockies...
  • 5-Acre Home Site, Great Views with Spectacular Sunsets From a South Facing Home Site. Excellent for Passive Solar Design. Covenants, No HOA. Keller Williams Co....
  • 3 bed/2 bath, detached strawbale building. 11.7 acres, barn, corrals, fenced. Wells, solar panels, greenhouses. Paved access. 575-535-2568.
  • WildEarth Guardians seeks two public interest-focused staff attorneys with a minimum of 5 years experience to join our legal team. Experience with at least some...
  • The New Mexico Wildlife Federation is seeking an Executive Director, a visionary leader who is passionate about public lands, dedicated to executing an innovative strategic...
  • The Aravaipa Land Steward coordinates preserve stewardship work and general operations including maintenance and general preserve management. Implements preserve management plans, which may include species...
  • seeks a talented and dynamic development professional, with a passion for protecting our natural environment, to lead our development and fundraising team.
  • The Native American Fish and Wildlife Society seeks an Executive Director in Denver, CO to serve as the Chief Administrator of the national Native American...
  • NewTowncarShare News seeks a development assistant to assist with fundraising campaigns. HCN is an award-winning, national news magazine. Strong candidates will have experience administering...
  • Energiekontor US seeks experienced local candidate, must reside in western South Dakota. Send resume and cover letter to: [email protected]
  • Seeking passionate full-time Executive to lead the oldest non-profit organization in Idaho. Must have knowledge of environmental issues, excellent organizational, verbal presentation and written skills,...
  • Carbondale based public lands advocate, Wilderness Workshop, seeks a Conservation Director to help direct and shape the future of public land conservation on the West...
  • The Bighorn River Basin Project Manager identifies and implements projects to improve streamflows, restore stream and riparian habitat, improve fish passage and rehabilitate or replace...
  • Dream of owning your own business, being your own boss, working from home ... this is the one. 928-380-6570, www.testshop.com. More info at https://bit.ly/2Kgi340.
  • Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...
  • 4 standard or custom lengths. Rugged protection for backpacking. Affordable pricing.
  • 5 acres, well. Abuts Carson NF; hike fish ski; deer turkey elk.
  • 9+ acre inholding. Passive solar strawbale off the grid and next to the Continental Divide Trail in ponderosa pine/doug fir forest at 7400.