Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I want to begin by acknowledging your leadership on this issue. If not for John Chafee, we never would have made it to this point.

And let me be clear. Despite the grumbling, and the honest, heartfelt reservations, today's hearing represents extraordinary progress.

Think back.

Two years ago, the Endangered Species Act was under attack. Appropriations riders. Radical proposals to gut the Act. Fierce partisan debates.

Maybe all that controversy was good politics. But the Endangered Species Act was in critical condition. Especially because of the appropriations riders, which paralyzed the Fish and Wildlife Service's ability to implement the Act on the ground.

In contrast, today we have a bipartisan bill. It will reauthorize the Act, and make narrow, targeted, improvements.

It will provide more protection for species. It will make it a little easier for farmers, ranchers, and other landowners who are trying to play by the rules.

And it will allow us, finally, to put the controversy and partisanship behind us, and move ahead.

Now, let me turn to the bill. With all due respect to Senator Kempthorne, who has been a strong advocate for a conservative bill, let me list a few things that our bill does not include.

It does not include a "takings" provision.

It does not change the standard for listing.

It does not contain water rights language that overrides the protections of federal law.

It does not mandate the selection of the "least cost" recovery plan.

It does not change the substantive standards of section 7.

It does not override NEPA.

Taking all of this together, the bill does not include any of the provisions that would have threatened the fundamental underpinnings of the ESA.

But, of course, the measure of a law is not what it fails to accomplish, but what it does accomplish.

This bill accomplishes a lot.

It improves the listing process, by bringing better science to bear and providing for flexible, non-bureaucratic peer review. I believe that better science makes the Act stronger, not weaker.

It increases public participation, by providing for more public hearings and opening up the recovery planning process.

It creates a new emphasis on recovery planning. Recovery, after all, is what we're aiming for.

It increases the role of states, and encourages more cooperation with private landowners. And it makes modest changes to improve the consultation process among federal agencies.

All that said, the bill is not perfect. It's not the bill I'd write, if I had it all my own way. It's a hard-fought compromise, that represents concessions all around.

The bill can be improved. I'm especially sensitive to the concern that the bill requires substantially increased funding in order for key provisions to work.

However, today's hearing is not the end of the road, but the beginning. We still have a lot to learn.

Yesterday, I held a meeting in Helena to consider the views of many Montanans who have very strong feelings about the ESA. Today, we'll hear more, from experts who have a great deal of experience with the Act.

We take your comments seriously. We've tried to achieve a solid, bipartisan compromise. But we don't have all the answers. The folks that I talked to in Montana yesterday, and the witnesses today, can help us improve our bill

That way, we can pass a new Endangered Species Act. One that will renew our commitment to protect the fragile web of life that will sustain our grandchildren in the 21st Century.

In closing, I want to complement our Subcommittee Chairman, Senator Kempthorne, and our Ranking Minority Member, Senator Reid. Just like they did last Congress, on the Safe Drinking Water Act, they have worked creatively to produce a "win-win" solution that is good for our environment and good for our economy.

And I also want to complement Secretary Babbitt, and Jamie Clarke, for their hard work and deep commitment to improving the Endangered Species Act.

Thank you.