Kempthorne blasts species act - ESA has spawned a 'flood of lawsuits' but done little for species recovery, private landowners or the state, he says

By DAVE WILKINS Capital Press Staff Writer


SUN VALLEY, Idaho — After three decades, it’s time to reform the Endangered Species Act, Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne told a group attending a workshop here this week.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the passage of the ESA.

Unfortunately, it’s debatable whether the act has done much good, Kempthorne said.

If the act had resulted in “meaningful, measurable pro-gress” it should be obvious, but the evidence isn’t there, he said.

“I’ll tell you where it has succeeded,” Kempthorne said. “In litigation, controversy and conflict.”

The act has spawned a flood of lawsuits but has done little for species recovery, private landowners or the state, he said.

“Litigation rarely helps the species,” Kempthorne said.

He blasted the act for being a “heavy-handed” tool of government and for intimidating landowners.

“There is a fear because the law focuses on those who don’t comply,” he said.

Twenty-nine species found in Idaho have been listed as threatened or endangered since the act was passed in 1973, but there’s been little hard evidence to show which of those species actually needs to be listed, Kempthorne said.

“Science must be our guide,” in determining the need for species recovery efforts, he said. What is needed is an ESA, “that focuses on species recovery and cooperation, not conflict.”

It would be far better if the states took the lead in species recovery efforts, working cooperatively with private landowners to prevent species from being listed in the first place, Kempthorne said.

Rather than focusing on punishment for non-compliance, “We need to focus instead on incentives,” he said. “We need more latitude to allow landowners to carry out their plans immediately.”

As a U.S. senator, Kempthorne led an unsuccessful effort to reform the ESA and was the first governor in the nation to establish a state Office of Species Conservation after he became Idaho’s chief executive in 1999.

Even federal officials have recently acknowledged that the ESA is in need of reform.

In May, Craig Monson, U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, declared the act “broken.”

A flood of court orders requiring critical habitat designations is undermining endangered species conservation by compromising the agency’s ability to protect new species, Monson said.

The agency is expected to run out of funds in July to designate critical habitat.

“This flood of litigation over critical habitat designations is preventing the Fish and Wildlife Service from protecting new species and reducing its ability to recover plants and animals already listed as threatened or endangered,” Monson said in a news release.

Meanwhile, Idaho is making progress in species conservation by being proactive and not waiting for the federal government to tell it what to do, Kempthorne said.

The state has worked with ranchers in central Idaho’s Lemhi River watershed to restore more than 50 miles of streams that will aid fish recovery and is in the process of establishing a similar restoration effort in the Salmon River basin.

Monson said that, in almost all cases, recovery of listed species will come through voluntary cooperative partnerships, not regulatory measures such as critical habitat designations.


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