Save the species, save a buck.
Landowners frustrated by the Endangered Species Act might get a carrot instead of the stick under a proposed revision of the law that would offer them tax incentives to give the critters a home. That approach is emerging as a narrower alternative to a comprehensive overhaul of the endangered species law, a priority for Republicans before Democrats took control of Congress this year.
While environmentalists credit the law with saving and reviving species like the bald eagle and spotted owl, many farm and property rights groups contend it unduly restricts legitimate land uses, provoking lawsuits instead of helping plants and animals.
Several senators, including the Democratic chairman and senior Republican on the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee, are supporting a bill offering to $2.7 billion in tax credits over 10 years to landowners who take steps to help endangered species recover.
"In one way or another, this bill has been about five years in creation," Sen. Michael Crapo, R-Idaho, the legislation's chief sponsor, said Wednesday.
Rather than amend the Endangered Species Act, the bill offers landowners an incentive to abide by it, in contrast to the "more regulatory" approach now being taken, Crapo said.
Last year, the House passed a bill by then-Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., that would have stopped the government from designating "critical habitat" where development is limited. The legislation stalled in the Senate and environmentalists successfully targeted Pombo for defeat in the November election.
Some advocacy groups, including Environmental Defense and the National Wildlife Federation, have joined the American Farm Bureau Federation in supporting Crapo's bill.
"For too long now, we've been relying exclusively on regulations that had the unintended consequence of pitting landowners and environmentalists against each other," said Michael Bean, senior attorney for Environmental Defense.