January 18, 2006

IMPROVING THE ESA FOR SPECIES AND PEOPLE

Guest opinion by Idaho Senator Mike Crapo

For years now, landowners, environmentalists and state and federal agencies responsible for implementation and enforcement of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) have been working to improve the Act. The status quo is not producing the best possible outcome for species or people. And although stakeholders continue to advocate for meaningful improvements, the stalemate goes on. In the meantime, the survival of one species after another, and one ranch or farm after another is called into question. The time to take action is now, in 2006. With the firm goal of moving forward on ESA recovery, Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Arkansas) and I introduced the bipartisan Collaboration for the Recovery of the Endangered Species Act (CRESA) in December. CRESA translates the tried and true language of consensus-based species recovery into legislation intended to gain enough support to pass the United States Senate this year. We have the responsibility and privilege to be good stewards of our natural resources. The integrity of our resource system safeguards our precious ecosystem. At the same time, these resources are essential to our economy. Solutions that develop conservation strategies good for species and landowners (who shoulder much of the responsibility for species management) are essential and completely possible. We can better respect property rights and improve species recoveryâ??we know this because itâ??s already happening. CRESA codifies the innovative collaborative species management occurring nationwide, giving these success stories the foundation of law. Current regulatory climate limits creativity and discourages landownersâ?? participation in the process and species suffer as a result. Landowners must have a meaningful role in determining how to conserve threatened and endangered species. An effective way to encourage landowner participation is to offer reasonable conservation methods that bring tangible benefits to species and the communities involved.Specific features of the legislation provide flexibility when landowners contribute to recovery work. CRESA does not eliminate preservation procedures; it expands the options for those involved in the process. CRESA does not reduce essential protections for species nor does it give the federal government more control over private property. It gives state and local governments more opportunity to initiate conservation programs, and more options for landowners to create viable solutions, including more room to negotiate Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs) and simpler procedures when HCPs contribute to recovery. It provides certainty with no surprises â?? a deal is a deal. Finally, there are additional options outside an HCP process for landowners to apply for incidental take protection, including options through Farm Bill programs, the Healthy Forest Recovery Act and conservation banking. If none of these options are feasible, landowners may continue through current law.CRESA rewards landowners who expend time, money and personal resources in conservation efforts. The compensation amount depends on the extent and length of recovery efforts including two forms of direct payment. Those who allow their lands to be used in conservation efforts will be compensated under CRESA. These are just a few features of the legislation. This bill is intentionally focused on consensus building for responsible species recovery, encouraging state and local input and incentives to involve more landowners working toward recovery under the ESA. CRESA was drafted to introduce ideas and encourage involvement in the process of crafting a strong bill that will pass the Senate. We need a thoughtful and respectful debate. Many people have already come forward with well-developed ideas that move toward responsible species recovery and property protection. These priorities arenâ??t mutually exclusive. We need even more input. Take the time to become involved. Contact me with your concerns and suggestions. For information on the bill, you can go to my website: http://crapo.senate.gov. WORD COUNT: 600