Friday, July 20, 2007

Success for more than just a few

By Sen. Mike Crapo

A 67-year federal project came to a triumphant close in June. Our nation's majestic symbol, the Bald Eagle, was officially removed from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) list of threatened and endangered species. While ESA protection has only been in place since 1973, the bald eagle has been federally protected since 1940. Today, the bald eagle has been restored to over 9,700 breeding pairs. This historic event happens at a time when Idaho is dealing with protection and proposed delisting of other species under the ESA, including gray wolves and grizzly bears. It's an opportune time to discuss what delisting means and proposed improvements to the ESA that I am working on.

Delisting is the removal of a species from the Federal Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. Downlisting is the reclassification of a species from endangered to threatened. Both delisting and downlisting result from successful recovery efforts; delisting can also result from new evidence of additional populations. For delisting, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determines that the species isn't threatened based on a variety of factors, including population size, stability of habitat quality and quantity, and control or elimination of threats. If some threats have been eliminated and the species has met certain recovery goals, the Fish and Wildlife Service may downlist a species.

The delisting process is complex, resembling steps required to list a species. Multiple assessments of population, existing threats, future threats and other regulatory protections include input from stakeholders at the local, state and federal levels. Following successful delisting, a species is monitored for at least five years. Delisting does not mean there are no longer protections for that species. Other state and federal laws, such as the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, also provide protection.

The ESA, as written, has had successes like that of the bald eagle, but we can do better. The ESA processes, like other regulatory procedures, must be reviewed periodically for effectiveness and applicability to changed physical and regulatory realities. Accordingly, I've been working on legislation to update the ESA to better serve species. This spring, Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Arkansas) and I introduced the Endangered Species Recovery Act (ESRA), which codifies much-needed tax incentives to make it simpler for private landowners to get involved in recovery efforts.

Over 80 percent of endangered species live on private property. ESRA, like the voluntary Farm Bill conservation programs that inspired its creation, makes it more attractive for private landowners to contribute to species recovery. ESRA tax incentives encourage recovery by reimbursing landowners for property rights affected by agreements, including conservation easements and costs incurred by species-management plans. When people want to participate, the likelihood of conflict and litigation is reduced. This new model facilitates more solutions and better recovery results.

In April, five members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee wrote to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, asking, among other things, for him to consider the ESRA as an example of a constructive solution to current ESA challenges. I was also encouraged to hear that the Senate Finance Committee may consider the ESRA prior to the August state work period.

The ESRA provides collaborative, creative ways to balance resource conservation with economic uses of natural resources and preserves rural living. I look forward to working with my Senate and House colleagues to move ahead with this legislation, which provides a new model for better conservation work. It's a good omen that our nation's symbol is no longer endangered or threatened. It's time to apply lessons learned in species recovery efforts to expand species recovery in the future.


Mike Crapo is the junior Republican senator from Idaho.

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