Federal law hurts industries, panel told
(Note: Here's a convoluted 'smoke and mirrors' mess. Some of the people are catching on to the criminals!)
June 7, 2004
By Stella Davis, Current-Argus Staff Writer
P.O. Box 1629
Carlsbad, NM 88221-1629
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Carlsbad, New Mexico - The federal Endangered Species Act is entering its 30th year, but it is not working, local residents and officials told the U.S. House Committee on Resources Monday.
A hearing was held at the Pecos River Village Conference Center, where about 200 people attended to hear testimony on the Endangered Species Act’s impact on the economy, agriculture, oil and gas industry and local government.
A group of protesters gather outside the Pecos River Village Conference Center to object to the Endangered Species Act on Monday. They were there for the meeting of the House Committee on Resources. Stella Davis/Current-Argus.
Representatives from the agriculture community, the city of Carlsbad, the Carlsbad Irrigation District, state Rep. Joe Stell, D-Carlsbad, and the state Department of Energy and Minerals testified at the hearing.
While they came from a variety of backgrounds, the majority of those who testified agreed that immediate action must be taken to revise the act.
The hearing was brought to Carlsbad through the efforts of Rep Steve Pearce, R-N.M., officials said.
“The gloom and doom regarding ESA is exaggerated. The law has been under-funded, understaffed and in some cases, poorly administered,” Joanna Prukop, secretary of the state Department of Energy Department, testified.
“But mere facts like the peregrine falcons are being removed from the endangered species list and the bald eagle is recovered nationwide are indications that the ESA is working in very big ways.”
She said reauthorization of the act is a high priority in New Mexico. The state strongly supports reforms that would make it more effective in achieving the original intent of the ESA, she said.
Alisa Ogden, a farmer and rancher, told the committee, chaired by Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., the Endangered Species Act, in theory, has its place in the attempt to keep a variety of species from extinction. However, it has impacted humans more, she said.
“In reality, it has become our worst nightmare,” she testified.
“The human factor has been ignored in the decision-making process. In addition, the use of sound science is not encouraged in determining what species are in need of protection or the best method in protecting them. Too many times, personal agendas have taken precedence over common-sense decisions in regards to many species.”
“The Endangered Species Act has given wildlife very little to cheer about as we stagger blindfolded into its 30th year,” he said.
Pombo said since it inception, nearly 1,300 species have been listed as threatened or endangered.
Yet, he added, only seven domestic species listed under the act have ever been recovered in 30 years.
“None of these species was recovered as a result of the ESA alone. Their removal from the ESA is to be linked to other vital conservation measures and human intervention,” Pombo said.
Plombo said the act was born of the best intentions, but it has failed to live up to its promise, and species are more threatened today because of its serious limitations.
For the past 30 years, the Endangered Species Act has remained a law that checks species in, but never checks them out, he said.
Ogden said the act has a “tremendous” impact on the financial well-being and resources of agricultural organizations, as well as to individual producers like herself and other family members.
“New Mexico’s livestock industry has spent well in excess of $500,000 in attorney’s fees alone in attempt to protect agricultural producers and their rights during the past seven years,” Ogden testified.
“Despite winning a landmark case on critical habitat designation in 2001, we have had to continue to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the same issue -- time and time again -- just to obtain compliance with federal law.”
She said the act is particularly harsh on New Mexico and other Western states because of land ownership patterns.
She told the committee that New Mexico is more than 60 percent government-owned and made up of a patchwork of private, federal and state lands.
Ogden said the agricultural community is not unwilling to be a part of the solution. She said the agriculture industry came together two years ago to identify potential fixes to the act that would protect species and at the same time, agriculture families.
Jeff Harvard, president of Harvard Petroleum and former president of the Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico, said the act is without question having a large negative impact on the oil and gas industry.
“More and more time and energy is being drained from our everyday business activities to identify, analyze, evaluate, discuss and address the ESA issue,” he told the committee.
Harvard said he personally spends about 25 percent of his time dealing with endangered species issues and he is getting tired of it.
“The playing field is continually moving,” he testified. “Rules and regulations are continually changing. I'm not alone in my sentiment that it is getting to the point where it is not worth the hassle.”
Harvard said the act is a failure that has not saved a single species, and it is in need of immediate change before it does any more “mischief.”
Tom Davis, manager of the Carlsbad Irrigation District, testified the Pecos blunt nose shiner was listed as a threatened species in 1987 and is protected under the act. Since then, it has caused problems for the district and the farmers it serves.
“Critical habitat for the shiner was designated in the 70-mile reach of the river below the village of Fort Sumner,” Davis said. “The river is wide and meandering with a sandy bottom through this reach. This is believed to be preferred habitat for the shiner.”
Davis said that immediately after listing the shiner as threatened, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists took the position that the historical operation of Sumner Dam was responsible for reducing the shiner population to a threatened status, even though the base flow of the Pecos River is released through Sumner Dam.
“It seems to me that it was predetermined that the dams were the cause of the shiner’s demise,” he said.
He said the CID has cooperated to the extent possible since 1992 with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist’s requests to experiment with different operation scenarios at Sumner Dam that might benefit the tiny minnow.
He said the CID is governed by a three-year biological opinion that expires in 2006 that outlines the release operations at Sumner Dam. Yet, he said, the CID has been told by biologists that despite the modifying of normal release operation and meeting target flows through the critical habitat, the shiner is still declining.
“If it is true that the population is in decline, one could raise several questions,” he added. “The operation or existence of Sumner Dam may not be the paramount influence on shiner survivability. Their population could be more influenced by other factors. It could be that we don't know enough about shiner population numbers over a long period to accurately understand and measure both past and present population trends. Maybe we don't understand enough about the shiner’s habitat needs to manage for its survival, not to mention delisting.”
Joanna Prukop, secretary of the state Energy and Mineral and Natural Resources Department, who was grilled by Pearce on the state’s stance on the act, said the endangered fish in the Pecos River are not the problem.
“They are only an indicator of the symptom,” she testified. “Rather, it’s management of water -- the river itself -- and other surface waters and groundwater that make up the system that feeds the Pecos River.”
Prukop, a former wildlife biologist, said the impact on fish species are symptoms that the ecosystems are not functioning naturally and when investigated, it’s easy to see the impacts on wildlife of this sort are related to the problems of downstream water systems.
“The loss of fish species is a sign of what humans are doing to change natural water systems,” she said.