Department of the Interior

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For Immediate Release:
September 30, 2005
Hugh Vickery

Norton Applauds House Action to Remove "Critical Habitat" Designation Requirement from Endangered Species Act

415 House Members Praised by Interior Secretary for Vote to Replace Existing Bureaucratic Requirement with Effective Conservation

WASHINGTON - Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton today praised the House of Representatives for passing legislation that would eliminate the critical habitat provisions of the Endangered Species Act, which have created a litigation morass for the Fish and Wildlife Service while doing little to benefit threatened and endangered species.

Norton noted that 415 members of the House voted for at least one of two legislative proposals that would abolish critical habitat.

"The House overwhelmingly agreed with what officials of both the Clinton and Bush administrations have testified repeatedly before Congress - the critical habitat provisions of the Act are broken," Norton said. "These provisions have created a legal and bureaucratic nightmare for both the Fish and Wildlife Service and for landowners, yet to date they have not created a single new acre of habitat for threatened or endangered species."

"Protecting and restoring habitat is vitally important to the conservation and recovery of threatened and endangered species, but the critical habitat provisions of the Act have proven an expensive, time-consuming and ineffective way to achieve these goals," she said. "We can achieve far more for conservation by using the time and money we have spent on critical habitat designations to work in voluntary cooperation with landowners to actually restore habitat that fish and wildlife can live in rather than simply drawing lines on maps."

On Thursday, House members approved H.R. 3824, The Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act of 2005, on a vote of 229 to 193. The measure was introduced by House Resources Chairman Richard Pombo and Rep. Dennis Cardoza . A substitute measure, offered by Rep. George Miller and Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, failed on a vote of 206 to 216. While there were significant differences between the two measures, both effectively removed the critical habitat provisions from existing law. A total of 415 of the 435 individual members of Congress on Thursday voted for one or the other of the measures.

Norton commended Pombo and Cordoza for their leadership in the passage of the legislation.

"The Endangered Species Act is long overdue for congressional review, but it took skillful leadership to get a reform bill through the House," Norton said. "By securing passage of this legislation with votes from both sides of the aisle, Representatives Pombo and Cardoza have taken an important step in improving the Act to make it work better for both wildlife and for landowners and communities."

"We look forward to continuing to work with the Congress to refine the legislation as the process continues in the Senate," Norton said.

Habitat protection is key to conserving and recovering endangered species. Designating critical habitat under the current Endangered Species Act, however, does not conserve such habitat. The current law triggers only legal processes and not efforts that actually conserve habitat needed by endangered species. The current law produces lawsuits rather than wildlife protection.

In 30 years of implementing the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has found that the designation of critical habitat provides little additional protection for species. In fact, the Service has said that when it comes to helping endangered species, the designation of critical habitat is its most costly and least effective regulatory action. The administration supports replacement of current law critical habitat provisions with other mechanisms that truly create, enhance, restore and conserve habitat. The administration believes that the habitat needs of endangered species are better met through recovery planning and voluntary conservation efforts.

Habitat is also protected through cooperative measures under the Endangered Species Act including Habitat Conservation Plans, Safe Harbor Agreements, Candidate Conservation Agreements and state programs. In addition, voluntary partnership programs such as the Service's Private Stewardship Grants and Partners for Fish and Wildlife program restore habitat. Habitat for protected species also is provided on many national wildlife refuges managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service and on state wildlife management areas.