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

Endangered Species Act Update

Air Date: Week of

Barbara Ferry reports from Washington, D.C. on the most recent developments with the Endangered Species Act and its ability to protect dwindling species.


CURWOOD: The Endangered Species Act, signed into law by President Nixon in 1973, is now in limbo. The law technically expired in 1993, and its re-enactment has been put off each year as Democrats try to hold off Republican attempts to reform the measure. Plants and animals currently on the list as endangered are being protected under temporary continuing resolutions, but under a Congressional provision passed last year, no new species can be added to the list until the Act is fully reauthorized. As Barbara Ferry reports from the nation's capitol, that may not happen soon, as the endangered species debate is caught up in election year politics.

FERRY: When Alaska Congressman Don Young and California Congressman Richard Pombo introduced their bill to reform the Endangered Species Act last fall, 126 of their House colleagues signed on to support the controversial legislation. The plan, which is opposed by the Clinton Administration and environmentalists would eliminate listing of subspecies, cut back on habitat protection, and compensate property owners whose lands was affected by species protection. Reform of the ESA was all part of the GOP plan to cut government regulation. But today, in the eyes of Melinda Pierce, who watches Capitol Hill for the Sierra Club, the Young-Pombo plan is going nowhere.

PIERCE: Those bills are dead in the water, and so I think that there is some reeling in of that extremist agenda.

FERRY: In an election year, Republicans may be reluctant to bring up for a vote legislations Democrats could label anti-environment. Recent opinion polls have noted voter distrust of the GOP on environmental issues. The surveys have forced the party to re-evaluate its political agenda and shift to the center.

GILCHRIST: That sort of set the stage for people thinking, well maybe I need an environmental vote, so where can I cast my environmental vote? Do Republicans look like they're trashing the environment?

FERRY: Maryland Congressman Wayne Gilchrist is a leader of a group of moderate Republicans who tried but failed to reach a compromise with Young and Pombo on ESA reform. But Gilchrist now says he has Speaker Newt Gingrich's blessing to introduce his own version of the bill. It would maintain key provisions of the existing law, as well as adding incentives for landowners to protect species on their property.

GILCHRIST: Newt has been a pretty solid ally in this whole process, particularly with the Endangered Species Act. He says he's not going to allow a bad Endangered Species bill to hit the House floor.

FERRY: But some Democrats are wary of Republican mellowing on the environment. California Representative George Miller, who co-chairs the party's environmental caucus, accuses GOP leaders of using budget cuts to gut the ESA, while they put off a vote on the Young-Pombo bill.

MILLER: This is just a back door attempt to repeal the Endangered Species Act because they don't have the courage to put that question out on the floor. Well, it simply would not pass the Congress, it would not pass the Senate, and the President wouldn't sign it. So they're trying to do this under the guise of budgeting.

FERRY: In the Senate, a recent attempt to lift a ban on adding new species to the Endangered list failed. And the moratorium continues until the end of September. Meanwhile, more than 240 plants and animals which were supposed to be added to the Endangered Species list remain in limbo. Without any money to run the program, Jamie Clark, Assistant Director of Ecological Services for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, says the exact status of such creatures as red-legged frogs, Pacific Coho salmon, Bull trout, and Peninsula Bighorn sheep is unclear.

CLARK: The fear and the continuing concern is that we probably know more about what we don't know than what we do know about these species' status and whether or not they're continuing to decline.

FERRY: For Living on Earth, I'm Barbara Ferry in Washington.



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