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Endangered species Act rewrite introduced in house.

Early last week, Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Resources Committee, introduced legislation that would rewrite the Endangered Species Act.

The Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act of 2005 (H.R. 3824) replaces the controversial critical habitat designation with recovery plans, provides more incentives for voluntary conservation efforts, and provides for the use of the "best available scientific data" on all decisions, among other things.

Originally adopted in 1973, the Endangered Species Act protects species believed to be on the brink of extinction. Under the act, certain species of plants and animals are listed as either "endangered" or "threatened," according to assessments of the risk of their extinction.

Once a species is listed, a number of legal mechanisms can be used to enforce the recovery of the species and protect its habitat.

One such mechanism is the designation of "critical habitat"--areas where a listed species is found or which could provide additional habitat.

This designation protects the land from modifications when any federal agency, funding, permit or license is required.

Lawsuits often result both from the designation of critical habitat without proper scientific justification, and the failure to designate critical habitat within the statutory timeframe. According to Pombo, these lawsuits have forced the Fish and Wildlife Service to use funds that would otherwise be spent on species recovery.

H.R. 3824 would eliminate the critical habitat designation and instead use recovery plans to implement the intent of the original Endangered Species Act.

One possibly troubling provision for local governments included in H.R. 3824 is the "regulatory takings" mechanism, which would require taxpayers to finance the payment of monetary aid to landowners who propose projects that would harm threatened and endangered species.

These provisions would compensate citizens for simply complying with federal law. The federal government would pay financial "aid" to landowners who forgo a proposed use of the land where the use could harm a threatened or endangered species.

Compensation would be based on the value the land would have if the proposed use were allowed. The only exception to the compensation mandate applies when the owner's proposed use would be a nuisance. NLC is evaluating this proposal to determine any possible impact on local governments.

A mark-up of this legislation was expected to happen late last week.

Existing NLC policy supports the Endangered Species Act and offers suggestions to improve it, including offering incentives to landowners and encouraging the development of coordinated land-use and development plans that balance protection of species and growth.
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Author:Turner, Joanna Liberman
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Sep 26, 2005
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