Graves: Endangered Species law needs overhaul

Associated Press
Kansas City Star


WASHINGTON - Pointing to this week's legal wrangling over the Missouri River as a case study, Missouri Rep. Sam Graves set the stage Thursday for an effort to overhaul the Endangered Species Act.

The river runs down Missouri's northern border to Kansas City, forming the western border of Graves' district.

The legal battles are part of an effort to restore the Missouri to a more natural spring rise and low summer flow as a way of encouraging fish spawning and bird nesting by species that are on the federal threatened and endangered lists.

A federal court last week ordered water levels dropped, which would make the water too shallow for grain shipments by barge.

"I feel like a pawn in a political chess game, with my land and that of my neighbors as the prize," said Tom Waters, a farmer in the river floodplain of Ray County, Mo.

He testified at a hearing Graves held Thursday before a subcommittee of the House Small Business Committee.

Graves, a Republican, has targeted other major laws for reforms; earlier this year, he introduced bills that would impose moratoriums on immigration as well as federal land acquisitions.

The two-term Missouri lawmaker has not yet introduced his Endangered Species Act reform bill, but it already is attracting more attention than the other two.

The chairman of the House Resources Committee, California Republican Rep. Richard Pombo, testified in favor of Graves' effort at Thursday's hearing. Beside him were officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Small Business Administration.

The three helped Graves make his point the government is so overloaded with lawsuits involving the Endangered Species Act that it has little time and few resources to devote to actually helping those animals and plants recover.

The government system of designating critical habitat for endangered species - a designation that brings into play special rules for landowners - is driven by lawsuits rather than biology, Graves said.

"The Endangered Species Act is out of control," Graves said. "It holds farmers, landowners and small businesses hostage to the concern of animals and plants."

He told how floods in 1993 and 1995 caused a logjam in Linn County, Mo.'s Locust Creek, which created potential habitat for the endangered Indiana bat, prompting the Fish and Wildlife Service to halt cleanup plans and keeping productive cropland under standing water for more than two years.

Graves is still drafting the legislation and plans to introduce it next week. Aides said he will seek to reduce how many species are listed, a number now over 1,260, and lessen the amount of required critical habitat. He argues that since only 15 listed species - or 1.2 percent - have actually recovered, government resources should be redirected.

He faces an uphill battle. Republicans have been trying since taking control of Congress in 1995 to alter the Endangered Species Act.

Environmental Defense, one of the groups suing over the Missouri River management, had an official testify at Graves' hearing about how active cooperation between landowners and the government can save species.

Another of the conservation groups, American Rivers, said Thursday that claims of hardships on private landowners are frequently exaggerated.

"The Endangered Species Act recognizes that extinction is forever and that the importance of species that are about to disappear may only be understood in hindsight," said Eric Eckl, spokesman for American Rivers. "The Endangered Species Act has been extremely successful in that most of the species placed on that list have not gone extinct."



Endangered Species Program:


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