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Western governors focus on wildlife

Changes to species law discussed at S.D. summit

By Steve Schmidt

December 4, 2004

A majority of Western governors gathered in San Diego yesterday said they
favor significant revisions in the federal Endangered Species Act, one of
the nation's landmark environmental laws.

Colorado Gov. Bill Owens and others said the 31-year-old law often robs
Westerners of their property rights and imposes broad rules after little

"We want to recover the species," said Owens, a Republican. But, he added,
"let's not use the species act as a way to try to manage public and private

Owens' comments came near the start of a two-day summit of the Western
Governors' Association. Joined by scientists, environmentalists and others,
the group is meeting in La Jolla to assess the state of the law across the

Five of the six governors participating are Republicans. The lone Democrat,
Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, worries that a movement brewing in
Congress to rework the law will go too far.

"I think it needs some tinkering, but we don't need a major overhaul," he
said. "Look, the Endangered Species Act has protected the bald eagle, the
grizzly, the salmon and other important species."

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, although not participating, stopped by the
summit last night to welcome his counterparts, telling them that "wildlife
protection is very, very important to the state of California."

But he remained mum on whether the species act should be overhauled.

Richardson and others predicted Schwarzenegger would weigh in eventually on
the politically sensitive issue, particularly if the campaign to rework the
law picks up momentum in Washington, D.C. "(Schwarzenegger) has been very
effective at intervening at the right time," Richardson said.

Nearly 70 percent of the plants and animals listed as endangered or
threatened under the law are based in the West, including species of fairy
shrimp and the kangaroo rat.

Rep. Richard Pombo, Republican chairman of the House Resources Committee,
attended the summit yesterday to pitch his proposal for significant
revisions to the act.

Pombo, a cattle rancher from the Central Valley, believes property owners
and other local interests must be given a central role in how endangered
species are managed.

Under the current law, he said, the recovery needs of a single plant or
animal are often considered more important than the interests of landowners
and the community.

Pombo said when he built a house on his 500-acre ranch a couple of years
ago, he had to pay a sizable fee to mitigate the loss of habitat for a
species of fox.

"I didn't think it was fair," he said yesterday.

Owens said his state was forced to spend millions of dollars to protect
habitat for a type of mouse, only to later learn the mouse was not a
distinct species after all.

Also attending the summit are Gov. Linda Lingle of Hawaii, Gov. Mike Rounds
of South Dakota, Gov. Judy Martz of Montana and Gov. Kenny Guinn of Nevada.

Guinn said state and local governments should play lead roles in managing
species because they can develop effective local solutions.

Case in point, he said, is the Greater Sage Grouse. Federal biologists said
yesterday that the threatened bird does not warrant listing under the
species act, in light of state and local efforts to recover the animal.

Critics of the federal law note that out of the 1,300-plus species listed as
threatened or endangered, only about a dozen are considered to have

Richardson said environmentalists favor taking a fresh look at the species
act, but he worries some conservatives want to gut the law. "That's my big
fear," he said.

Steve Schmidt: (619) 293-1380; [email protected]
<MAILTO:[email protected]>
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