Endangered Species Act package includes wolves for Yellowstone

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 1994:

eries and Wildlife subcommittee of the U.S.
Senate Environment and Public Works
Committee opened discussion of reauthorizing
the Endangered Species Act on June 15 amid
a flurry of actions by the Clinton administra-
tion designed to mitigate objections to the
ESA from landowners while convincing envi-
ronmentalists that the key goals of the act will
not be yielded for political advantage.
Most notably, Interior Secretary
Bruce Babbitt announced June 14 that effec-
tive upon publication of new ESA regulations
in the Federal Register, it will institute peer
review of species listing and recovery deci-
sions by panels of three independent scien-
tists; produce multispecies listings and recov-
ery plans for species sharing the same ecosys-
tem, to expedite the regulatory process; pub-
lish land use guidelines spelling out what is
and isn’t allowed in the habitat of each new
species listed; and most symbolically impor-
tant, add landowners and business representa-
tives to endangered species recovery planning
teams. The latter comes close to building into
the listing process the cost/benefit analysis
that the George Bush administration argued
should be part of endangered species decision-
making back when the ESA first came up for
renewal in 1992.

One day later, the same day Babbitt
testified to the subcommittee, he gave final
approval to the reintroduction of gray wolves
to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming
and central Idaho, where they were extirpated
circa 70 years ago––a major symbolic victory
for environmentalists and wolf enthusiasts,
who actively sought the reintroduction for
more than a decade, and a signal to Wise
Users and ranchers who opposed the reintro-
duction that while they may get some ESA
concessions, including exemption of the
Yellowstone wolves from ESA protection,
they are not going to get everything their own way. The first 30
wolves of a Yellowstone population projected to number 100
within eight years are to be released this fall.
Adopted in 1973 with a 20-year authorization, the ESA
missed becoming perhaps the hottest topic of the 1992 presidential
campaign because neither Bush nor Congress wanted to open an
emotionally charged debate pitting “warm, fuzzy” signal species
against pocketbooks with their jobs on the line. Instead the 1973
ESA authorization was extended on an interim basis pending
agreement upon an amended version, which has been quietly
developed behind the scenes ever since. In the interim both the
pro and con sides of the ESA have lost considerable steam. The
environment has slipped far down the list of public priorities as
named in polls since the peak of interest in 1990, the 20th
anniversary of Earth Day, but the opposing Wise Use movement
has lost strength as well, as major corporate backers of early Wise
Use coalitions and conferences have backed away from associa-
tion with “radical right” elements. The real heavyweight opposi-
tion to ESA reauthorization will come from the traditional land
and wildlife use lobbies representing ranching, logging, oil, min-
ing, and real estate.
Despite the perils of pursuing reauthorization with
Congressional elections ahead, the Clinton administration isn’t
likely to get a better chance to pass the bill it wants, facing the
virtual certainty of losing strength in the House and Senate.
The Republicans, meanwhile, may have as much
chance to win concessions now as ever––unless they should hap-
pen to win control of the Senate. And in any event, leaders of
both parties agree that the ESA should be reoriented toward pro-
tecting critical ecosystems rather than one species at a time––the
object of Babbitt’s multispecies listing strategy, the reason
Babbitt wants a National Biological Survey parallel in scope to the
National Geologic Survey, and an idea previously advanced by
Babbitt’s Republican predecessor, Manuel Lujan. Clashes have to
do with logistics and partisanship more than principle.
Democratic Senator Max Baucus of Montana, one of a
handful of sparsely populated states with a relatively strong Wise
Use contingent, raised the direction of probable compromise in
questioning Babbitt. “Landowners are afraid,” Baucus said, “that
when a new species is listed in their area, their use of their land
will be hamstrung if the species lives on the land or migrates
through it. It is time to start looking for more incentives, rather
than relying soley on penalties.”
Baucus, who chairs the full Environment and Public
Works committee, was citing the Wise Use theory of “takings,”
which holds––now contrary to several Court of Appeals and
Supreme Court verdicts––that restrictions placed on land use
amount to government confiscation of property without compensa-
tion. But Baucus was also talking about Babbitt’s current plan for
raising grazing fees on government land, which departs from pre-
vious attempts to hike grazing fees by instituting price breaks for
ranchers who meet specific “good stewardship” requirements.
Babbitt took the opportunity to explain his efforts to
reorient ESA enforcement away from what he called the “narrow,
grudging and defensive” posture that enforcing officials and envi-
ronmental advocacy groups adopted during former president
Ronald Reagan’s early first-term attempt to gut the ESA by post-
poning or neglecting enforcement. The administrative hostility
forced species advocates to the courts to obtain letter-of-the-law
injunctions that precluded any deals in an intensifying atmosphere
of mistrust. The outcome was what Babbitt calls “a national train-
wreck” over the spotted owl in the Pacific Northwest, an econom-
ic and political deadlock that portends even more prolonged and
acrimonious conflict over restoring endangered salmon runs in the
same area––if the same strategies are applied.
The Clinton administration has made reaching a negoti-
ated settlement of the spotted owl crisis a priority––and has negoti-
ated settlements of several other conflicts of a similar nature.
Babbitt cited a deal with Georgia Pacific that released timberlands
for logging in exchange for old growth corridors to protect the red-
cockaded woodpecker.
Speaking again for landowners, Baucus pointed out to
Babbitt that, “The real problem is smaller companies that don’t
have the reserves of larger companies,” and therefore have
less––or nothing––to barter.
Babbitt acknowledged the dilemma, in effect agreeing
upon the central issue of the coming debate: how best to resolve
the essential conflict between the rights and interests of humans,
individual and collective, and those of species whose right to col-
lective survival is now recognized not only in theory but in a con-
siderable body of both legislation and jurisprudence.
Gnatcatchers and delta smelt
The difficulties ahead were exemplified in California
during a month of trying to balance the needs of the endangered
Delta smelt with the water needs of much of the state. After hold-
ing pumping from the convergence of the Sacramento and San
Joaquin rivers to a minimum for months to protect also endan-
gered winter-run Chinook salmon, state officials turned the pumps
up on May 23––and in just five days killed 164,000 smelt, off-
spring of the most successful spawning season in years, despite
taking every advised precaution. Eventually a huge population of
the three-inch translucent smelt was discovered to be on the east
side of the convergence, the opposite side from their normal habi-
tat, which was in turn causing the unexpectedly high pumping
mortality. At deadline there were still no evident solutions.
In Washington D.C., meanwhile, U.S. district judge
Stanley Sporkin on June 18 restored the California gnatcatcher to
the threatened species list, 46 days after removing it because the
federal government had failed to make public the scientific data it
used to rule the bird endangered. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service has 90 days from June 18 to hear public comment on the
listing before reaching a final decision. At issue is whether the
California gnatcatcher significantly differs from similar gnatcatch-
ers who live in Mexico. Critical habitat for the California gnat-
catcher includes several prime coastal sites that were slated for
major development.
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