By Joel Connelly
Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., doesn’t approve of presidents’ designating national monuments and takes a dark view of bills to create wilderness areas, but nothing gets Doc’s ire up more than the Endangered Species Act.
Hastings and a dozen other House Republicans on Tuesday trotted out a series of “targeted reforms” to the 1973 law, sponsored by Sen. Henry Jackson of Washington and signed into law by President Richard Nixon.
“The way the act was written, there is more of an effort to list than to de-list,” Hastings told a news conference.
The 41-year-old ESA has been used to save such species as American bald eagle, has preserved grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and has been deployed to protect dwindling salmon runs in Puget Sound.
Three pods of orcas (killer whales) frequently seen in Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands are officially listed as “threatened” under the act.
The Republicans’ proposal would curtail (officially “limit”) the ability of private citizens and conservation agencies to sue to force federal government to protect species. They would also give states greater authority over endangered species.
The proposed reforms constitute “a starting point as we move forward with sensible and targeted legislative proposals,” Hastings wrote on his website. He is chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.
If environmental groups have any say, the Republicans’ Tuesday news conference will be an ending point.
“It’s not just the Endangered Species Act, but the heart of American environmental law is the ability of citizens to force the government to enforce the law,” said Andrew Wetzler, who directs wildlife programs at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
If you start taking away citizens’ and groups’ rights to sue, Wetzler argued, “you gut the heart of environmental law.”
“It is Congress’ actions that deprive the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of money to administer the act that has led to the lawsuits Representative Hastings is talking about,” said Wetzler.
The Republicans’ announcement came as federal agencies declared that one species in the Northwest — the Oregon chub — has been saved, and that it can be de-listed from the Endangered Species Act.
The small fish is native to the Willamette Valley of Oregon. It has been classified as “threatened” with a joint effort to protect it by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Army Corps of Engineers and private landowners.
“For two decades, this extraordinary partnership that includes federal and state agencies, land owners and other stakeholders has served as a model of how we can use the ESA as a toot to bring a species back from the brink of extinction,” said U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.
“The success we have had with the Oregon chub reinforces that working together, we can recover species that currently are threatened or endangered.”
The Fish & Wildlife Service has run into a buzz-saw of criticism lately with a proposal to de-list Greater Yellowstone grizzlies, a decision that would allow Wyoming and Montana to again allow hunting.
Past efforts to reform the Endangered Species Act have gotten their sponsors into hot water.
In 1995, during the spotted owl controversy, it was revealed that timber companies helped draft a reform proposal put forth by Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash.
“The Republicans have a sorry record attempting to weaken the act,” said Wetzler. ”Every time they’ve done it, it has backfired on them . . . People love wildlife. They are a fundamental value we want to leave on this earth.”