Commentary: 'ESA has a zero percent rate of success'
Issue Date: April 6, 2005
As a rancher, I know first-hand the agricultural sector in California has many challenges. During the 12 years I've represented California's 11th Congressional District, I've had the opportunity to work on a variety of issues including private property rights, specialty crops, water policy and endangered species issues.
Without question, CFBF has established a presence in Washington to take members' concerns to the highest levels of government. I recently enjoyed the opportunity to visit with the CFBF Board of Directors in Washington and appreciated hearing an update on issues facing California farmers. During the meetings, we discussed my continuing work on updating the Endangered Species Act, and how its current failing state negatively affects species, farmers and ranchers.
After 30 years, the Endangered Species Act has given us very little to be proud of. Since its inception, nearly 1,300 species have been listed as threatened or endangered. Yet, not one single species has recovered as a result of the ESA alone. The bottom line: The ESA has a zero percent rate of success.
The Endangered Species Act, born of the best intentions, has failed to live up to its promise, and species are more threatened today because of its serious limitations. If America's health-care system was in the same abysmal condition, there would be a nationwide outcry for reform. But for the last 30 years, the ESA has remained a law that checks species in, but never checks them out. It has been a failing form of managed care. As stewards of the species that inhabit our nation, we can and must do better.
Specifically, the "diagnosis" and "treatment" aspects of the law are fatally flawed. They are ambiguous, open to arbitrary personal judgment and do not rely on sound science or peer-reviewed research. Known as "listing" and "critical habitat" respectively, these key elements of the act are responsible for the misdiagnosis of species as endangered or threatened and the application of a one-size-fits-all solution.
To make matters worse, rampant environmental litigation has undermined the already-broken system at the expense of species recovery. In fact, there have been so many lawsuits that the federal critical habitat program went bankrupt last year.
The shortcomings and unintended consequences of the ESA have also led to decision-making that defies common sense. The inflexibility in the treatment of endangered species sometimes gives them priority over human beings, but does nothing to actually help. In the recent case of the Klamath Basin and the endangered sucker fish, for example, it was determined that the sucker needed water more than the area's farmers needed it to irrigate their crops and feed their families. The result was a devastating loss of family farms, human life and economic vitality.
Or, consider the case of the endangered longhorn elderberry bark beetle and the Arboga levee in California. Weak levees were not able to be repaired because the work might have disturbed the habitat of the endangered beetle. The result: A huge flood broke the levee at the exact point where repairs were needed and three human beings lost their lives. The list of logic-defying horror stories continues on and on.
I believe Congress must focus on legislative reforms fostering the science, technology and innovation that have made America successful throughout our rich history.
California residents are a long way from Washington, making our frequent communication even more important. Through your participation with Farm Bureau, you have a great opportunity to be a part of the political process. I encourage you to visit with your representatives whenever you are in D.C., and don't forget about the importance of working with district offices. In addition, your calls, letters and e-mails are equally important.
I've valued your input as we all work toward improving our communities. It matters to me and other members of Congress to hear comments and concerns so we can represent you most effectively.
(Congressman Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, is chairman of the House Resources Committee and serves on the House Agriculture Committee. He may be contacted at www.house.gov/pombo.)
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