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Is Endangered Species Act broken?

A Republican lawmaker who has made rewriting the Endangered Species Act a top priority released a report Tuesday that said the law has failed to help most threatened and endangered species.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Endangered Species Act has failed to help most threatened and endangered species, according to a report released Tuesday by a Republican lawmaker who has made rewriting the law a top priority.

Environmentalists and Democrats quickly criticized the report prepared for Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., chairman of the House Resources Committee, as politically motivated and misleading.

The report by the panel’s oversight and investigations staff doesn’t include independent investigations, but draws on existing federal agency data to highlight the record of the landmark 1973 law.

Among its findings:

—Only 10 of nearly 1,300 domestic species of plants and animals listed under the act have recovered.

—Of the listed species, 77 percent have met 0 percent to 25 percent of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s recovery objectives for them. Only 2 percent have met 76 percent to 100 percent of recovery objectives.

—The recovery status of 60 percent of listed species is classified as either “uncertain” or “declining,” while 30 percent of species are stable and 6 percent are improving. Of the listed species, 3 percent — 35 in all — are classified as possibly extinct.

“No reasonable individual can conclude that the ESA is sustainable in its current form,” Pombo said.

Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia, the Resources Committee’s top Democrat, disagreed, saying the Endangered Species Act has spared the more than 1,200 listed species from extinction.

“Measuring the law’s success by the number of recovered species to date is like measuring the scope of human history by the last two minutes,” Rahall said.

Susan Holmes, senior legislative representative with Earthjustice, said centuries of species decline can’t be reversed in a matter of years.

“What Congressman Pombo is attempting to do is manipulate data, manipulate science to fit his political agenda to undermine and undo the Endangered Species Act,” Holmes said.

Pombo is working with other GOP lawmakers on amending the law to increase involvement by states, add incentives for private landowners, and strengthen scientific reviews.