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ESA in need of overhaul

December 7, 2012
By Congressman Raul Labrador

Last week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the final critical habitat designation for woodland caribou. Under this designation, 30,010 acres in Idaho’s Boundary County and Washington’s Pend Oreille County will be designated critical habitat for woodland caribou, which have been listed as an endangered species since 1984.

This final designation modifies a proposal that the Fish and Wildlife Service released in 2011, originally selecting 375,552 acres in Idaho’s Bonner and Boundary Counties and Washington’s Pend Oreille County as critical habitat.

The Endangered Species Act gives the Fish and Wildlife Service authority to designate critical habitat, which puts restrictions on the use of both private and public land in order to protect and improve wildlife.

But there is little evidence proving that critical habitat protections do anything to increase a species population.

As the rural economies in Idaho depend on access to public lands, additional limitations on land use negatively impact recreation, timber, mining, grazing, and each of our multiple uses.

The Fish and Wildlife Service determined that designating critical habitat for the woodland caribou was not prudent when the animals were added to the endangered list in 1984. After a recent lawsuit, the Fish and Wildlife Service determined in 2011 that now is an appropriate time to make the designation.

Following the release of the initial acreage proposal, there were serious concerns from many residents whose livelihoods and recreational opportunities would be impacted by the designation.

In order to address these concerns the delegation wrote letters to the Secretary of the Interior and the Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service. My staff attended the public meetings on my behalf, to express concern with this proposed rule and to listen to the issues raised by my constituents.

While I am pleased that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listened to the public outcry regarding the impact this expansive critical habitat designation would have on Idahoans’ livelihoods, Congress needs to have a broader discussion about improving the Environmental Species Act.

We need to preserve species for future generations but in a way that is consistent with economic growth.

The intent of the Endangered Species Act, to preserve and protect dwindling animal populations, has failed. Only two to three percent of protected species have actually been recovered, while the costs to our economy are immeasurable.

The Act needs to be updated and modernized in order to ensure adequate recovery of species. Land managers expend time and taxpayer dollars studying whether a species should be listed instead of actually establishing a plan for recovery.

This legislation originally passed 24 years ago in the House of Representatives, approved by voice vote. While this statute is well-intentioned, the long term implications have been detrimental to the West.

The issue is not limited to woodland caribou, as we have also seen from the ESA related actions surrounding sage grouse, slickspot peppergrass, grizzly bear, bull trout, salmon, and wolves.

Preserving each species creates unique challenges that ultimately affect our economy in Idaho, but I believe we can find a balance between growing our economy and managing our wildlife.
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