Congressman Richard Pombo (R-CA) has drafted a bill that would throw in the towel on the Endangered Species Act's (ESA) effort to recover endangered species, make delisting species more political and less scientific, and cripple the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service with new levels of bureaucracy and unfunded mandates.
"Congressman Pombo's bill ought to be called the 'Every Species Left Behind Act' because it abandons the effort of the last 30 years to achieve a secure future for our most imperiled wildlife," said Michael Bean, wildlife chair at Environmental Defense. "His bill would remove protection for rare species while they still face a serious risk of extinction, and would mire conservation efforts in a jumble of new bureaucratic red tape."
Environmental Defense recently published two analyses of the ESA that directly counter Congressman Pombo's reform philosophy and his faulty assumptions about the Act's effectiveness. The reports can be downloaded at http://www.backfromthebrink.org/inthespotlight.cfm?subnav=story&ContentID=4467
According to the draft, Pombo intends to so severely lower the "recovery" threshold that a species can be removed from the list well before its recovery has been scientifically documented.
"If this were an education bill, it would allow failing students to graduate," Bean said. "That approach doesn't make children smarter, and it won't help our endangered species. Congressman Pombo's bill removes any science from recovery efforts and replaces it with politics and opinion."
Under the ESA, an endangered species must be made sufficiently secure that it is no longer in danger of extinction – a scientific judgment – in order to be taken off the endangered species list. Under Pombo's proposal, a species could come off the list by achieving any other "desired level of abundance or distribution" short of scientifically-based recovery goals.
Other changes would impose on the Fish & Wildlife Service major new responsibilities that will drain even more resources from conservation efforts without any assurance that new resources will be made available. For example, the bill would transfer responsibility for managing endangered salmon from the Commerce Department to the Fish & Wildlife Service without any new resources to do so. And a host of new procedural hurdles would have to be cleared to add species to the endangered species list, to designate critical habitat or develop recovery plans for them and to review federal actions that detrimentally affect them.
"Congressman Pombo said he wanted a simpler, more effective endangered species policy," Bean said. "But what he's written is more complicated, more bureaucratic and startlingly less effective. Fewer resources will be available for recovery efforts and fewer species will be recovered."
Among the bill's troubling changes is the replacement of the government's duty to "develop and implement" recovery plans for each endangered species with a more innocuous duty simply to "publish" them.
"I'm a big fan of the Internet," Bean said, "but simply posting a recovery plan on the web won't recover a single species."
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