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Doc Hastings: Endangered Species Act should be updated

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The Endangered Species Act of 1973 "provided for the conservation of ecosystems upon which threatened and endangered species of fish, wildlife, and plants depend." Signed by President Nixon, it was designed to increase legislative measures needed for protection of our declining wildlife and their habitats.

Seeking to update the 40-year-old legislation is Yakima's Doc Hastings who heads the House Committee on Natural Resources.

Basically, Doc is saying that while protection of our imperiled species to where they are no longer endangered is a worthwhile goal, the goal needs to be met by having the law truly focused on species recovery. Also, we need to work not only at saving our wildlife, but responsibly so in regard to the total picture.

Doc stated,

“Very generally, those of us in the Northwest have been hit by impacts of the Endangered Species Act more than anybody. The economy that is based here is natural-resource based, with water, and with the timber industry, so whenever you have laws that impact natural resources, they are going to impact the economy.”

Citing two examples (Northern Spotted Owl and the bladderpod plant) in one of his messages, Doc Hastings has written the following,

"Hundreds of thousands of acres of forests in the Pacific Northwest are off limits, due to the listing of the Northern Spotted Owl. This listing has contributed to a more than 80 percent reduction in timber harvests, shut down logging operations and mills, and is causing an increase in catastrophic wildfires that have destroyed the very ‘habitat’ these policies are supposed to protect."

"Recently, over 400 acres of private, irrigated Franklin County farmland has been proposed as critical habitat – severely impacting the economic value and future uses of this land – for a sub-species of plant known as the “bladderpod” that a recent DNA study shows is indistinguishable from plants in other areas."

As is, the ESA of 1973 takes its economic toll on our state and also brings in too many cases for wasteful litigation by environmental groups. Doc Hastings claims it has formed “a process where litigation becomes more paramount than saving species.”

While Doc invites discussion on how the ESA might be improved, Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore, believes,

“There’s the potential for balanced, reasonable compromises to modernize the Endangered Species Act based on the best available science, but unfortunately this majority does not seem interested in such an approach. Instead, we will likely spend time debating legislation that will be cast as ‘common sense’ reforms, but will actually gut the law, and as a result will go nowhere in the Senate.” (Yakima Herald)

Congressional working group, click here.

Do we need to limit lawsuits?, click here. "The Natural Resource Committee said 570 ESA-related lawsuits from 2009 to 2012 cost the federal government more than $21 million in attorney fees, including $4.6 million in the Northwest. Hastings says time and money could be better spent working on recovery efforts. However, the fees paid to plaintiffs in those cases do not come out of the $175 million annual budget the federal Fish and Wildlife Service has for endangered species work; it comes from a separate fund tapped for all government lawsuits."

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