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Commentaries and editorials

ESA Reform Long Overdue

by Frank Priestley, President Idaho Farm Bureau Federation
Idaho Farm Bureau Quarterly, November 25, 2005

Out of the 1,260 species of plants and animals listed since the Endangered Species Act was signed into law in 1973, 17 have been recovered. That's about a 1 percent success ratio and it's a statistic that highlights the need to reform this legislation.

One of the biggest problems with the ESA from a landowner's perspective is that it tends to penalize farmers and ranchers for owning wildlife habitat that supports endangered species. When a landowner knows the federal government is going to restrict for-profi t activities if an endangered species is discovered on private ground, it creates a disincentive for the landowner to help with the problem. Since private property provides a significant amount of wildlife habitat, it makes good sense to create incentives encouraging landowners to voluntarily conserve species habitat rather than continuing under outdated legislation that isn't working.

Legislation that will correct this problem and modernize and update many other problems inherent to the ESA is on its way through Congress. Farm Bureau supports this legislation and is lobbying members of Congress to put their support behind H.B. 3300.

Activist groups like the Defenders of Wildlife are calling it the "wildlife extinction bill," and are encouraging their members to contact their congressmen to oppose the "gutting of the Endangered Species Act."

But consider some examples of how these groups have used the ESA to manipulate our court system and rob farmers and ranchers of their livelihoods in the name of "protecting" endangered species, and then decide for yourself.

Anti-logging groups often file lawsuits that block timber sales, arguing that cutting timber will reduce spotted owl habitat or cause sedimentation in streams that could harm fi sh. Aside from putting a lot of good people out of work, these court actions have the unintended conse- quences of creating a ripe environment for forest fi res, pine beetles and other bugs that kill trees. Logging defi nitely leaves an imprint on the environment, but in our opinion it's almost always better to cut trees and use them to provide jobs and revenue to local economies than to support non-management strategies that render pine beetle infestations and scorched watersheds.

Various anti-grazing activist groups have been using the ESA as a hammer to bludgeon rural Idaho for several years. They don't care about endangered species but they have been successful in using the ESA to eliminate livestock grazing on public land, which is their mission. The unintended consequences of their work have harmed many small businesses that support agriculture and cost Idaho ranch families their livelihoods.

In our view, we need to continue to protect species from going extinct, but people are important too and we need to provide incentives that encourage landowners to be part of the solution. This legislation accomplishes that. Reform of the ESA is long overdue.

Frank Priestley, President Idaho Farm Bureau Federation
ESA Reform Long Overdue
Idaho Farm Bureau Quarterly, November 2005

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