Statement of Senator Max Baucus
Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Water
Hearing on ESA Listing and Delisting Procedures
May 9, 2001, 9:30 a.m.
Thank you Mr. Chairman for holding this important and timely hearing on the listing and delisting procedures of the Endangered Species Act. I would like to thank our distinguished panel of guests for appearing today to testify.
I believe strongly in preserving this country=s unique biodiversity and I believe strongly in the mission of the ESA. However, I have always been willing to explore ways to make the Act more effective in protecting and recovering endangered and threatened species, and more sensitive to the legitimate concerns of states and private landowners. I=ve worked hard on ESA reform in past Congresses, working with my colleagues on this Committee to craft a bipartisan ESA re-authorization bill in the 105th Congress.
Our bill made significant improvements to the Act, improvements that we felt made the Act a more effective tool in the identification and recovery of endangered or threatened species. It=s a shame that the bill did not pass. It wasn=t perfect, but I believe it would have made a real difference, not only to overall species recovery efforts, but to the states and local communities that often find themselves at odds with the mandates of the ESA. The bill contained provisions that addressed some of the concerns that will be raised today about the listing process, such as independent peer review of listing and delisting decisions and more transparency in the listing process.
And yet, after all that time and effort, here we stand today, trying to figure out what=s gone wrong with the listing process, a process that I=ve heard called both Abroke and broken.@ Some say that the Fish and Wildlife Service is paralyzed, that it has too much work, not enough money, and is buried under citizen lawsuits. Only the most desperate cases get any protection. This in turn makes it more time consuming and expensive to help species recover, which in turn makes the Act seem that much more of a burden on private citizens.
I find this incredibly frustrating. We=ve had opportunities to make the ESA more efficient, effective, and more sensitive to private landowners and states, and we haven=t capitalized on them. We continue to chronically underfund the entire Endangered Species Program, leading to the current crisis in the listing program that we=re discussing today B species that warrant protection that aren=t getting it, and their conditions are deteriorating, and listed species aren=t being recovered to the point where they may be de-listed.
I believe the current outcry over excessive court involvement in the listing process is a symptom of a far larger problem B an agency that is underfunded and overworked and that just can=t get the job done. But, let me be clear, I don=t think the answer is to yank the people=s ability of to petition the Service to list a species, or to designate critical habitat. The last thing we want is less public participation in the federal decision-making process. Federal Agencies face substantial political pressures, from all sides, especially in an area as controversial as the implementation of the ESA. Although some may view the process as having been abused by certain groups, and in some instances that may be true, the petition process is an important vehicle for local government and citizens to be heard in the larger national debate over endangered species. And, the shoe could easily land on the other foot -- what if a citizen=s group wants to oppose a proposed listing?
After all, this is not a new issue for any of us. As you should recall, we worked to improve state involvement in the process, to improve incentives for landowners to conserve species on private lands, to encourage better science at all stages of species recovery, from listing to delisting. For a variety of reasons, we just didn=t deliver.
Clearly we=ve learned that gutting the Act is not the answer, nor is it something I support, or that I believe a majority of my colleagues support. But we should also have learned that continuing to underfund the agency is not an appropriate or useful response, either. To simply padlock the agency=s toolbox, does little to address the daily list of chores we call upon the agency to accomplish. A lot of federal and state agencies depend upon the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Marine Fisheries Service, to do its job, to do it well, and to do it in a timely fashion.
So, let me paint you a picture. Highway projects fund nearly 14,000 good-paying jobs for Montanans. In Montana the Fish and Wildlife Service is stretched thin. When a city, county or the state wants to widen a road, install a culvert, rebuild a bridge, before you can show up with the flagger or the concrete mixer or the heavy equipment, the project is often effectively tabled before it=s begun for lack of enough agency support to complete routine biological opinions and assessments. Every Congress, I work hard to get money for Montana highway projects, which does Montanans little good when they have to wait months or even years for an ESA consultation process to be completed. The same can be said of time-sensitive salvage timber sales in Montana=s National Forests, and other projects that support the livelihoods of people in my state.
The ESA was never, never supposed to trump good and necessary projects that can and should move forward. I know that this hearing is not about ESA consultations or other functions of the Fish and Wildlife Service under the ESA, but they are a good analogy to the problems the Service is facing under its listing program. The Fish and Wildlife Service=s budget has not increased significantly since a 1990 Department of Interior Inspector General=s Report stated: Ait is obvious that the Service=s mission cannot be fully accomplished at present funding levels.@
I believe a lack funding has severely compromised the effectiveness of the Service in carrying out its duties under the ESA, resulting in project delays and frustration at the local, state and federal level. No one's interests are served in this situation, not the local, county, state, or federal government's, not the private citizen's, not the public's, and not endangered species. It=s easy to accuse a federal agency of dragging its feet. But, it=s far more challenging to fund the agency at an appropriate level, to give it the resources it needs to do properly the job we ask of it.
I realize that the preservation of endangered and threatened species entails considerable financial burdens that should not fall solely on the US taxpayer, and that we need to search constantly for new and innovative ways to preserve species and their habitats as our population continues to expand and our economy to grow. We owe it to our children and grandchildren, and all those who come after them. But again, increased funding would give the Fish and Wildlife Service more flexibility to be creative, to work with landowners, local communities and states to set priorities and to protect species and their habitats before they sit on the brink of extinction. Before the Federal Government has step in and contemplate a listing.
We owe it to the citizens of this country to follow-through on the duties we in Congress have imposed on the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Again, I look forward to the testimony of the witnesses on this important issue and I thank them for their time.