Good morning. The Subcommittee on Fisheries Wildlife, and Water will come to order. Today, the Subcommittee will be receiving testimony on the designation of critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act. It has been quite some time since the subcommittee has focused on Endangered Species Act related issues and it has been almost precisely four years since we have taken up the issue of critical habitat designation.
In the Spring of 1999, the late Senator John Chafee, who was chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee and a true leader on environmental issues, along with then Secretary Bruce Babbitt Senator Domenici and myself got together and worked out a bill to reform critical habitat. That bill, S. 1100, improved the efficiency and effectiveness of critical habitat designation while also protecting habitat for listed species. We reported S. 1100 out of Committee with no opposition. Unfortunately, the bill encountered difficulties before the full Senate and no companion bill was ever introduced in the House.
The reason I mention S. 1100 is that issues around the Endangered Species Act have become so polarized and intransigent that I suspect there is not a whole lot of confidence among the stakeholders that Congress has the political will to fix the problems. I don't believe that is the case with the issue of critical habitat designation.
A strong, bi-partisan record has been built over the last several years. Former Fish and Wildlife Service Director Jamie Rappaport Clark testified before this committee in May 1999 regarding S 1100:
“We firmly believe that attention to, and protection of habitat is paramount to successful conservation actions and to the ultimate recovery and delisting of listed species. However, in 25 years of implementing the ESA, we have found that designation of “official” critical habitat provides little additional protection to most listed species, while it consumes significant amounts of scarce conservation resources.”
Former Secretary Bruce Babbitt authored an op-ed for the New York Times in April 2001 in which he defended the Bush Administration for the manner in which it was trying to address the significant number of court orders for designating critical habitat in the face of too few financial resources and biological priorities far more important than the designation of critical habitat. Mr. Babbitt wrote:
“These uncertainties undermine public confidence in one of our most important and successful environmental laws. That is why during my tenure as interior secretary I repeatedly asked Congressional leaders to write budget restrictions that would prevent money for important endangered-species programs from being siphoned off into premature “critical habitat” map-making. This request was denied every year. The Bush administration now proposes something similar.”
Mr. Babbitt goes on to say that legislative reform by Congress, rather than “putting restrictive language in the budget,” was the way to “fix the problem.” I couldn't agree more.
My point is that problems with the Endangered Species Act have not been limited to a Democratic Administration or a Republican Administration. Clearly, significant difficulties in implementing the Endangered Species Act have confronted the agencies responsible carrying out one of our nation's most powerful environmental laws, irrespective who is in charge, and the problems continue to worsen.
Just a few weeks ago, Fish and Wildlife Service Director Steve Williams testified before this subcommittee with respect to the Service's fiscal 2004 budget request. Before their budget request was even printed the Service became subject to additional court orders and other unanticipated judicially enforceable deadlines rendering the budget request inadequate.
Congress is failing its responsibility to conserve and recover listed species by allowing court-ordered critical habitat designations, that admittedly have very few conservation benefits, to devour more than half of the budget for listing new species each year.
I sincerely hope that this subcommittee and the full Environment and Public Works Committee has the will to work together to address this and some of the other very serious problems with the Endangered Species Act.