TESTIMONY OF JAMIE RAPPAPORT CLARK, DIRECTOR, U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES, REGARDING H.R. 3160, A BILL TO AMEND THE ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT OF 1973
March 1, 2000
Good morning Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee. Thank you for inviting me to testify today regarding the views of the Administration on H.R. 3160, introduced by Chairman Young. While we appreciate the Committee's interest in reauthorization of the Endangered Species Act, we have serious concerns about the provisions in H.R. 3160. H.R. 3160 would change or eliminate provisions of the existing law in ways that the Service believes would undermine public and private efforts to conserve endangered and threatened species. My testimony will describe the negative impacts that H.R. 3160 would have on endangered and threatened species conservation and provide examples of how the bill would severely weaken the Act's essential protections, as well as eliminate incentives for Federal agencies and private landowners to protect listed species. The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 3160, and the Secretary would recommend that the President veto the bill.
No Consensus-Based Approach
The Service supports reauthorization of the Endangered Species Act as long as the essential protections for species under the current law are maintained. H.R. 3160 reverses the essential conservation thrust of the Endangered Species Act and tips the balance from one that errs on the side of protecting the species to one that places economic considerations and development needs first. In addition, H.R. 3160 does not include our key reforms or accurately represent the Administration's policies. We believe that H.R. 3160 would reverse the progress we've made in species conservation and could lead to the extinction of many species.
The Service has identified many perilous components of H.R. 3160. We will describe the most egregious components here.
H.R. 3160 is Fundamentally Flawed and Would:
These provisions would dramatically alter the current framework of endangered species conservation and recovery by removing the responsibility Federal agencies currently have to conserve listed species. The burden would then fall on private landowners, the States, Tribes, local governments and the public. The consequences would be severe both for these groups and listed species. Together, these changes would constitute an invitation to Federal agencies to abandon their conservation efforts. The likely result would be an increase in the number of species facing extinction and the lack of Federal programs and initiatives to stem this decline. Innovative, cooperative efforts along the lines of the Northwest Forest Plan would have been unlikely had H.R. 3160 been law.
There are many examples of Federal agencies using their authorities to recover listed species. Most agencies see real benefits to species conservation. For instance, the Department of Defense has a number of programs on its lands that are recovering listed species. Army biologists are surveying bald eagles on Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland and seeing record numbers of this species, which was proposed for delisting in July 1999. Eglin Air Force Base in Florida is one of the largest military installation in the United States and at 460,000 acres is home to many important wildlife resources. The Air Force conducts wildlife surveys for such important species as the red-cockaded woodpecker, black bear and flatwoods salamander; coordinates a fire management program to restore native habitat; and contracts with local universities to conduct biological research. Defense Department lands include some of the most productive fish and wildlife habitat in the country.
The U.S. Forest Service has also contributed to the conservation and recovery of listed species on their lands. For example, habitat protection and prescribed fires in the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina are helping to recover the threatened mountain golden heather, a plant which has a limited range and occurs only on Forest Service lands. Intense management on Forest Service lands has also benefited MacFarlane's Four O'clock, another threatened plant found only on Forest Service lands. In addition, the Forest Service has significantly improved the recovery status of the black-footed ferret on national grasslands in South Dakota and Nebraska and contributed to the conservation of other species such as the Puerto Rican parrot, peregrine falcon and southwestern willow flycatcher. Not only has the Forest Service contributed to conservation of listed species, but its activities have also precluded the need to list species that were once in decline such as the Arizona willow in Utah, the Cossatot leafcup in Arizona, the Junaluska salamander in North Carolina and the Peaks of Otter salamander in Virginia.
H.R. 3160 would undermine the basis for many of these activities and remove Federal responsibilities for recovery of listed species. It would emulate the inadequate measures of the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966 that the passage of the 1973 Endangered Species Act was intended to remedy. Under H.R. 3160, a Federal agency would only be required to support species conservation if it were part of its primary mission. The Administration opposes any amendments that would diminish the responsibility of a Federal agency to conserve listed species.
In addition, H.R. 3160 would change the standard for Federal agency compliance with Section 7 by altering the definition of "jeopardy." Whereas the jeopardy standard is now defined in regulation to prohibit actions that will appreciably reduce the likelihood of species' survival and recovery in the wild, this bill would only prohibit actions likely to significantly diminish the probability of survival (and not recovery), and would remove the proviso that this evaluation be based on the status of the species in the wild. These changes would seriously limit the utility of Section 7 to maintain essential habitat and species distribution in the wild.
In some cases under this scenario, it is possible that the existence of a reasonably secure captive or cultivated population could render a jeopardy biological opinion impossible. The last wild occurrences of some of our nation's most severely depleted species could be allowed to disappear, and the Act's intent to conserve the ecosystems upon which endangered and threatened species depend would be abandoned. This seemingly simple redefinition could lead to devastating consequences for rare plant and fish species; many of which are represented by populations in botanical gardens and hatcheries. Many populations in "captivity" are held for the sole purpose of reintroduction into the wild. Ironically, under H.R. 3160, these propagation efforts could make destruction of their natural habitats easier.
To further erode Section 7, H.R. 3160 would exempt from Section 7 consultation the issuance of incidental take permits under Section 10 of the Act for Habitat Conservation Plans. Section 7 requires Federal agencies to address impacts to all species that may be affected by a proposed action, even those species that are affected by HCP activities but not covered by the HCP and its permit. Completing Section 7 consultations on HCPs is the only opportunity to analyze the indirect effects of the activity on species not covered by the plan. We believe that completing comprehensive Section 7 consultations on all Federal activities, including HCPs, benefits listed species and adjacent landowners.
Bog Down Listing Decisions:
The listing provisions in H.R. 3160 do not only affect future listings, but also could reverse many current listing decisions. The Service would have to delist a species if "the original listing of the species was not subject to adequate peer review required under this Act." The new standards imposed in H.R. 3160 would set the stage for potentially endless disagreement over the extent to which data were "field-tested" or the Service's effectiveness in identifying "data that have yet to be collected."
H.R. 3160 adopts a requirement that listed subspecies be reproductively isolated. In doing this, the bill would establish a scientifically uninformed framework for interpreting taxonomic categories, for the purpose of "...establishing scientifically valid standards...". Many subspecies are capable of interbreeding, and scientists take this into account in constructing classifications. H.R. 3160 ignores modern scientific understanding of the relationships among organisms.
Further, current law gives the "benefit of the doubt" to the species in our listing decision-making process when there are data gaps. H.R. 3160 would abandon this precautionary standard, seriously weakening the Section 4 listing process. In practice, data gaps are quickly filled through the recovery and consultation programs, and it is rare that giving the "benefit of the doubt" to species has later proven to be unwarranted.
Allow Take of Listed Species:
This very long list of broad categories of actions would allow an astounding number of exemptions from the Act with great potential impacts on species. At the same time, the exemptions would benefit certain constituencies by eliminating their responsibilities under the Act, and would place a larger burden on other constituencies whose projects would not qualify for one of these exemptions, to bear all the costs for species protection. The Service has worked diligently and creatively with landowners for years to develop ways of allowing important activities to go forward while offsetting their effects on listed species and the ecosystems upon which they depend. In most cases, only minor project modifications are required to avoid serious impacts to listed species.
Funding Needed to Continue Progress
We recognize that private landowners face conflicts and competing needs when dealing with the Endangered Species Act. According to a 1993 study by the Association for Biodiversity Information and The Nature Conservancy, half of listed species have at least 80% of their habitat on private lands. The Clinton Administration has developed a number of tools to help landowners conserve listed species while allowing economic development to continue. Several Service programs provide mechanisms for increased cooperation with private landowners, Tribes, States, local governments and agricultural interests. These programs include:
Safe Harbor Agreements -- which encourage voluntary management for listed species and promote their recovery on non-federal lands by giving landowners assurances that no additional future regulatory restrictions will be imposed.
To continue making progress on implementation of the Endangered Species Act, we need, and have requested in the Administration's Fiscal Year 2001 budget, an increase in funding for our current endangered species program. As of December 31, 1999, there were 1,205 domestic species on the List of Endangered and Threatened Species, 264 candidate species, and 53 proposed for listing. Consultations, Habitat Conservation Plans (HCP) and recovery workloads have increased tremendously at the same time that the Administration has been working to streamline and expedite the consultation and HCP processes. The Service anticipates that approximately 550 HCPs will be in some stage of development or implementation in fiscal year 2001. More than 40,500 Federal projects will be reviewed in fiscal year 2001, and we will conduct over 75 programmatic consultations. The Service's capability to meet the demand is critical to completing reviews in a timely manner.
The Administration recognizes that continued funding support is essential to continue our successful record of reform. The Administration's fiscal year 2001 budget request for our endangered species is essential to allow the Service to provide greater technical assistance to private landowners and to expedite consultation and permitting actions throughout the nation, and to expand many of these programs to encourage more participation by non-federal partners. For instance, we are asking for an increase of $42 million for the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund from an enacted level of $23 million in fiscal year 2000 to a request for $65 million in fiscal year 2001.
Another key tool in our ability to meet the needs of private landowners and listed species is the potential dedicated and protected funding proposed under the President's Lands Legacy Initiative.
In the interim, the Administration's fiscal year 2001 budget request includes some bold initiatives that will allow the Service to provide incentives to landowners for species conservation and enable the States, Tribes, and U.S. Territories to work on programs that might render listing unnecessary for some species. One program identified in the Administration's fiscal year 2001 budget request, the State Non-Game Wildlife Grants program, would provide $100 million in grants to States, Tribes and U.S. territories for non-game habitat restoration, planning, monitoring, inventories, and wildlife-related recreation.
This Administration has made great strides in reaching out to our partners to conserve listed species. The Endangered Species program is not without its problems and critics. However, we are solving problems and working with more partners than ever before. We want to continue this progress, and the potential to move forward on species conservation and recovery is high. However, H.R. 3160 would erode that progress and take a step back from the balanced approach to species conservation and economic development that we have achieved in the past seven years.
Thank you for soliciting the views of the Administration on this important issue. I will be happy to answer any questions.
Disclaimer: All statements are not the opinions or position of those testifying, rather they are the official positions taken by the Administration.