Kempthorne likely to seek
Endangered Species Act changes
By Faith Bremner, Great Falls Tribune
WASHINGTON — Conservation groups expect Interior
Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to seek major changes
next year to a federal law that protects plants
and wildlife from extinction, picking up where he
left off nine years ago when he was in the U.S.
In 1998 as a senator from Idaho, Kempthorne nearly
pushed a bipartisan bill through Congress that
would have updated the now 33-year-old Endangered
Species Act. The measure would have given
landowners an incentive to work with federal
authorities to help endangered species. It also
would have given landowners more say over plans to
protect species habitat and would have required
more scientific review before species could be
The bill fell apart when it was blocked in the
House. Shortly afterward, Kempthorne became the
governor of Idaho.
Critics complain that the endangered species law
is too punitive and does not do enough to
encourage landowners to protect and restore vital
habitat. About 90 percent of endangered species in
the United States exist on private land. The act
forbids federal agencies from taking actions that
jeopardize endangered species and it prohibits the
public from harming them without a federal permit.
The act helped save bald eagles, wolves and
grizzly bears from extinction.
Environmental groups now say they expect
Kempthorne to again try to push his ideas through
Congress and change department regulations. While
his earlier proposal was considered moderate by
many, environmental groups worry the new version
would tilt more toward landowners and developers.
But if Democrats win control of the House in
November, Kempthorne would have to act more
cautiously, said Jamie Rappaport Clark, executive
vice president of Defenders of Wildlife and former
director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
under President Bill Clinton.
"The election will matter hugely," Clark said.
"There should be no illusions about what could
happen, particularly since it's the last two years
(of the Bush administration). A lot of mischief
could occur in two years."
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said he supports
updating the act, but any legislative proposal for
change would have to be balanced between
Republicans and Democrats or it won't pass.
"I want to ensure that any further reform is a
common-sense solution that protects both wildlife
and private property rights at the same time,"
Kempthorne has not said whether he plans to try to
change the Endangered Species Act, department
spokesman Hugh Vickery said.
Since taking over Interior's reins from Gale
Norton in June, Kempthorne has been holding a
series of public listening sessions around the
country on cooperative conservation, along with
the secretaries of Commerce and Agriculture, the
Environmental Protection Agency administrator and
the head of the Council on Environmental Quality —
the White House's environmental office.
During his Senate confirmation hearing, Kempthorne
said he looked forward to "again being at the
table discussing ways to improve the act and make
it more meaningful in helping the very species
that we're trying to save."
But environmentalists are wary of Kempthorne's
record, opposing federal programs to recover
threatened grizzly bears and endangered wolves
when he was Idaho governor, said Liz Godfrey,
program director for the Endangered Species
"Given his record, it's potentially dangerous to
open up the Endangered Species Act," said Godfrey,
whose group opposed Kempthorne's 1998 bill. "I
don't think (the act) needs to be changed. It
needs to be funded. It has been consistently under
funded over the course of the years