Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for continuing what has become a decades-long examination of the Endangered Species Act.
I look forward to a strong partnership with you and the many other members who share our commitment to this issue.
We have been accumulating good ideas for updating and strengthening the Act for more than a decade now since its last update.
Everything we know is based on two clear lessons: “First, the protection of endangered and threatened species continues to be a national priority; and second, the Act must be improved to be more effective” (Sen. Rep. 105-128, p. 6).
Those are the words of this committee in 1997 and they remain true today.
These words gained new immediacy last month from the rediscovery of the ivory-billed woodpecker in Arkansas.
The recovery program now mobilizing for the ivorybill should inspire us to mobilize more recovery for more species.
Surprisingly, though we have worked hard at protecting species during the 30-plus years since we passed the Act in 1973, we have few active recovery programs compared to the many species listed as threatened or endangered.
This is no criticism of the Act; this is the opportunity for improvement.
We can help more wildlife in new ways if we support more recovery programs. We can help ourselves too because this is key to rebuilding goodwill and trust over species conservation issues.
If we in Congress seize this opportunity to enhance recovery through partnerships, technology, and hard work, we will be catching up to the people already striving to recover species in the field.
As the people behind success stories like the Black Bear Conservation Committee in Louisiana and the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership in Wisconsin have struggled to make the Act work, Congress has remained in a meaningless and destructive argument about whether the Act is broken.
This is a demonstration of gridlock.
An environmental group that has been very helpful to me on this issue, the World Wildlife Fund, has observed this as well, saying, “the real problem is gridlock on reauthorization, which can be broken by “enhancing . . . conservation and simplifying compliance with the Act.” A property rights group has touched on the same point, saying, “We need to reestablish trust so we can conserve wildlife.”
A coalition of businesses has called for changing the debate from a “clash over existing terms and programs to new tools that improve the Act.”
We don’t need to repudiate the Act before we can agree to improve it.
We must focus on the agreement on improvement in order to work ourselves free of old political positions.
We must take up a bill that writes into law what people have made to work on the ground.
We have a good head start on what it takes.
The Endangered Species Recovery Act, which is S. 1180 from the 105th Congress, had balanced and strong co-sponsorship and solid ideas.
My friend and predecessor, Dirk Kempthorne, and your father, John Chafee, co-sponsored the bill.
They joined with Senators Baucus and Reid – mutual friends of yours and mine – and earned a strong vote in this committee.
The 109th Congress should honor their work with its own commitment to the motto of those years: “making allies out of adversaries.”
The focus now, as it was then, must be an improved and energized recovery program supported by a simple outline of ideas; namely:
• improving habitat conservation.
• providing more and better incentives.
• enhancing the role of states where appropriate.
• ensuring reliable science.
This outline emerged from the more than 100 witnesses over three years of testimony in the mid-90s.
Continuing scrutiny and debate has sharpened these ideas since. Conferences, workshops, studies, and forthcoming papers and books have been sponsored by the Universities of California and Idaho, Stanford Law School, the Western Governors’ Association, the Government Accountability Office, and others.
In the debate today there are a number of promising ideas for implementing the vision of stronger ESA:
• Ensure direct recovery work for listed species by setting recovery goals and budgeting each year to make progress toward them.
• Create and improve incentives by codifying an effective “No Surprises” policy, and speed the writing of habitat agreements, and the use special rules for threatened species.
• Find responsible ways to increase funding – and some of this should come from private sources by turning from litigation to conservation.
• Enhance the role of states and expand options for states to promote landowner involvement in protection and recovery.
I want to emphasize the importance of working respectfully with landowners. Because private land and the support of private landowners is so obviously necessary, we must jump at any chance to work with landowners who show interest in joining conservation efforts.
We are smarter about this today than we ever have been. We are gaining experience in protecting property rights as part of voluntary agreements to promote species conservation.
For example, in Idaho landowners have stronger property rights today because they have advanced their own conservation ideas for wolves, grizzly bears, sage grouse, ground squirrels, and a desert plant (the slickspot peppergrass).
Other states have similar accomplishments: Colorado, California, Louisiana, Texas, Wisconsin, and others have advanced recovery and property rights with lynx, songbirds, bears, and butterflies. There are others.
In summary, Mr. Chairman, we have good ideas and strong capabilities up against the well-rehearsed controversy of gridlock.
We can and we must surmount entrenched positions.
If we update and strengthen ESA to become less contentious and more effective, we will have the votes to win passage of a bill.
I have suggested, asked, and even provoked interest groups to unite on points of agreement and ignore the carping that destroys the debate. I hope today we will hear evidence of unity and I urge the committee to join me in promoting it.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.