THREATENED AND ENDANGERED SPECIES RECOVERY ACT OF 2005 -- (House of Representatives - September 29, 2005)
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Mr. KIND. Mr. Chairman, the Endangered Species Act remains an enduring testament to the importance the American people place on preserving plant and animal species for future generations. That sentiment was reflected in President Richard Nixon's words during his signing of the Act on December 28, 1973 when he said, ``Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed. It is a many-faceted treasure, of value to scholars, scientists, and nature lovers alike, and it forms a vital part of the heritage we all share as Americans.''
I am also reminded of the wisdom of my recently passed friend and hero, Senator Gaylord Nelson, who said, ``We must recognize that we're all part of a web of life around the world. Anytime you extinguish a species, the consequences are serious.'' Thankfully today, citizens can see firsthand in every State the progress being made in bringing wildlife back from the brink of extinction.
For example, In Wisconsin, for the first time since its 1991 listing as an endangered species, the winged mapleleaf mussel, a species found only in a small area of the St. Croix River, have been found to be slowly rebuilding their numbers. Another success of the ESA is the Karner blue butterfly. Although 99 percent or more of the Karner blue butterfly's range has been destroyed, Wisconsin helped bring the species back using a conservation plan that takes into account the butterfly's entire life cycle. The State's project, which involves 38 public and private partners, began after the butterfly was listed as endangered in 1992. Lastly, perhaps best known, is that bald eagles are increasing in Wisconsin, where 645 pairs occupied territories in 1997, up from 358 in 1990. In fact, since eagles are relatively numerous in Wisconsin, the State has donated them to other areas from which they have vanished, including to the Nation's Capital--Washington, DC.
I mention these successes because many of the comments made on the floor today cast ESA as an unmitigated failure. I don't believe that is the case at all; and the scientific journal, Ecology Letters, recently published a study of the status of threatened and endangered species that showed more than half on the list for 5 years or more have either stabilized or are improving.
That said, I agree with my friend and colleague, Congressman John Dingell, author of the original ESA in 1973, that this landmark bill could use an update--that it could be and should be strengthened in ways that cuts bureaucratic red tape, broadens stakeholder participation, and most importantly better facilitates the revival of more threatened and endangered species.
Mr. Chairman, the bipartisan substitute does a substantially better job in these areas. For instance, it is widely agreed the ESA has done a good job in preventing the extinction of many species but it has been less successful in bringing about ``the recovery of listed species to levels where protection under the Act is no longer necessary.'' I believe it is crucial the legislation provides for the development of strong, comprehensive recovery plans within a short period of time after a species is listed as threatened or endangered.
The Boehlert substitute, like the base bill, would repeal the current requirement that the Secretary designate ``critical habitat'' for endangered fish, wildlife, and plants before formulating a plan for species recovery. But it adds crucial language requiring the Secretary to identify--during a 3-year recovery planning process--lands that are necessary for the conservation of the species--first on public lands and then, if necessary, on private lands.
I also agree that private landowners have been required by ESA to individually shoulder too much of the burden. More than two-thirds of threatened and endangered species reside on private lands where the Endangered Species Act is least effective. It is imperative landowners be regarded as part of the solution and given the tools and incentives necessary to engender their help and support. I believe we should have at least considered expanding the Habitat Conservation Plan Land Acquisition Program in H.R. 3824 which has proven itself effective in reducing conflicts between the conservation of threatened and endangered species and land development and use. That, unfortunately, is not in the base bill.
Instead, H.R. 3824 provides a new, uncapped entitlement program in Section 13 that will only plunge our Nation's finances deeper in the red, and then prohibits common-sense steps that could at least provide some protection to the taxpayer. For example, under H.R. 3824 the government can be forced to pay out repeated claims for different proposals to use the exact same piece of property. These claims don't even need to be backed up by proof of compliance with State or local land use laws. And instead of lessening the number of ESA related lawsuits, even CBO has stated this provision is likely to increase the amount of litigation.
In contrast, the Boehlert substitute would establish a land owner incentive program that would operate much like a Farm Bill conservation program, with 70 percent cost sharing. From EQIP it adds language that would require the Secretary to maximize the conservation benefit for every dollar expended, put Federal money where it will do the most good. A technical assistance program would be established, and the safe harbor regulations would be codified.
Mr. Chairman, I urge my colleagues to support the responsible, bipartisan Boehlert substitute that answers the concerns of landowners, States, and sportsmen, while improving the ability to achieve timely recovery of endangered and threatened fish, wildlife, and plants. Let's mend it in light of past experience and the demands of modern times, but let's do it responsibly--support the substitute.
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