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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Endangered Species Act Reauthorization Flight Preview

Air Date: Week of

Steve talks with Michael Bean, of the Environmental Defense Fund's wildlife program, about the looming battle over the reauthorization of the Endangered Species Act. Opponents of the current act, including President Bush, say it needs to be overhauled to balance species protection against economic concerns. Environmentalists want it strengthened to protect entire ecosystems rather that single animal populations.


CURWOOD: If a decline in the northern sea lion population leads to it being declared an endangered species, sharp restrictions in pollock fishing would likely follow, and with it considerable controversy over the fish processing jobs that would be lost. Such controversies have marked the history of the Endangered Species Act, which is now up for renewal by the Congress. It's unlikely the matter will come to a vote before this fall's elections, but it has become part of the campaign. President Bush recenly spoke out about the Act in the Pacific Northwest, where the designation of the spotted owl as an endangered species has played a key role in sharply restricting the logging of old growth trees.

BUSH: I will not sign it without a specific plan in place to harvest enough timber to keep timber families working in 1993 and beyond. It is time to make people more important than owls.

CURWOOD: Michael Bean is chairman of the Environmental Defense Fund's wildlife program, and a key lobbyist on Capitol Hill in favor of strengthening the Endangered Species Act. Speaking with us from Washington, Bean says much of the spotted owl controversy has been widely misrepresented as a question of jobs versus the environment.

BEAN: It's a jobs-versus-jobs conflict, it's a conflict between timber jobs and fishermens' jobs. What really is at stake is the remainder, probably the last ten to fifteen percent, of the ancient forests of the Northwest. The future of those old-growth forests is also linked to the future of the salmon resource, and the salmon have been greatly diminished as a result of poor timber management practices and other practices. And if that degradation of the salmon resource continues, there are literally thousands of commercial salmon fishermen whose lives and jobs will be adversely affected.

CURWOOD: Your coalition would like to see a stronger version of the Endangered Species Act, I assume. Briefly, what improvements would you like to see?

BEAN: We'd like to find a way to trigger the commitment of conservation resources to species before they reach the precipice. Unfortunately, because the Act has been funded so sparsely, it is the case that most species are not being listed as endangered and not being protected until they have reached extremely low numbers. We also believe that the process of planning for the recovery of species and improving on the implementation of the recovery of species is an area where the Act could use some improvement. We're also frankly open to the suggestion that there ought to be created positive incentives to encourage people to carry out activities on their private lands that would benefit endangered species there. So we're exploring all of these things and others.

CURWOOD: I understand there's a move afoot to change how you would designate an endangered species, to the full species rather than subspecies, and this would mean that one need only protect eagles, and if there are enough golden eagles you don't have to worry about the bald eagle. Is there such a move afoot and is my interpretation correct?

BEAN: Well, it's basically correct. To give you a few examples, among the species that are now protected as endangered species the bald eagle is protected in the lower 48 states only -- it is not protected in Alaska. The Florida panther is a subspecies of mountain lion that's endangered in Florida and protected there, but it is not protected elsewhere, particularly in the West where it occurs. The proposal that has been put forth by some people would limit the Act to those things that are only full species, and thus the protection that the Act now gives subspecies and in certain cases geographic populations of vertebrate animals would be taken away.

CURWOOD: The US Supreme Court said that you can apply the Endangered Species Act to species overseas, but they did it for a very technical reason. Should the law be amended to say that, and why, if so?

BEAN: Well, yes, I think it's probably desirable to amend the law to make clear that it does apply to the actions of Federal agencies outside the United States. And to give you an example of how perverse a situation this leads to, one need only look to Austin, Texas. The citizens of Austin are endeavoring to put together a very innovative and frankly expensive plan to conserve a migratory bird called the golden-cheeked warbler, that happens to spend the spring and summer in Texas. In the winter, however, that bird migrates to Central America, and in Guatemala an agency of the Federal Government, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, is helping carry out a very aggressive pesticide spraying program that almost certainly is adversely affecting that same bird there.

CURWOOD: Thank you. Michael Bean is chairman of the Environmental Defense Fund's wildlife program. Thanks for joining us.

BEAN: Thank you.



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