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The Planet
January/February 1999 Volume 6, Number 1

Endangered Species

Animal House...and Senate

"The bill would have gutted the Endangered Species Act," said Laurie MacDonald, chair of the Club's Endangered Species and Habitats campaign. "You'd have to go out and intentionally shoot an endangered species to face any legal action."

She was referring to S. 1180, the Endangered Species Recovery Act, authored by Sen. Dirk Kempthorne (R-Idaho). In the last Congress, it gained enough momentum to get close to a floor vote - and almost certain passage - several times.

Sen. Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) name on the bill made it even worse. He and Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) originally supported the bill, and as known conservation leaders, their approval made the bill look like a moderate, bi-partisan consensus, not an attack opposed by nearly every environmental group in the country.

That Secretary Bruce Babbitt supported the bill made Club activists even more fearful. "If it had hit the Senate floor, it may well have passed," said Elyssa Rosen, the Club's regional representative for California/Nevada/ Hawaii. "That was pretty scary."

Fortunately, the floor vote kept getting delayed.

Rosen and other activists used the borrowed time to put the pressure on Reid. "We postcarded him to death," she said. Reid saw the writing on the wall - and the signatures on the cards.

"As a result of the grassroots work to stir up controversy, even former proponents like Reid were happy to see the bill stymied," said Melinda Pierce, the Club's Washington, D.C., representative for endangered species issues.

The work of people like Kevin Finney, who cultivated and motivated wildlife activists in the waning days of Congress, was also key to the death of the bill. Finney phoned people tirelessly to get them to call their senators when the Kempthorne bill was threatening to make an appearance on the Senate floor.

As the thinly disguised bill stalled in the Senate, a worthy House counterpart, Rep. George Miller's (D-Calif.) bill, H.R. 2351, also called the Endangered Species Recovery Act, had gathered steam. Miller has said he will bring it up for debate early in 1999. Hopeful advocates like MacDonald and others have praised the bill for its sound science and the provisions it contains to improve habitat conservation plans. An HCP spells out the measures a landowner will take to offset development impacts on a species.

The Alabama beach mouse court case earlier this year showed lawmakers that weak HCPs, which don't adequately protect a species in the face of nearby development, won't pass muster. Represented by the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, the Club sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the inadequate HCP for a development on the Alabama coast line . . . and won.

It's not all roses: In Yellowstone, Fish and Wildlife has proposed delisting the grizzly bear. Louisa Wilcox, project coordinator for the Club's Grizzly Bear Ecosystem Project, sees the move as premature and believes it could drive the lumbering mammal to extinction. It's the kind of fight that Pierce expects more of in the coming year. "We'll continue to see attacks on full funding for ESA protections, not just the law itself. We may see the budget for listing programs and recovery efforts slashed during the appropriations process."

But there's something to look forward to. After he distanced himself from the Kempthorne bill, Reid went on to win re-election by a paper-thin margin. "We're going to ask him to support a strong bill in the Senate that Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) is going to sponsor," said Rosen. "We need Reid's leadership and we're looking forward to working with him."

Go on to the next article, "Law Program's Yosemite Win Crowns Strong Year."
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