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May 9, 2007

Reps. Young & Sali's Statements from Today's Hearing

"ESA Implementation: Science or Politics"

            Washington, D.C. - The following are the statements from U.S. Reps. Don Young (R-Alaska) and Bill Sali (R-ID) from today's hearing entitled "ESA Implementation: Science or Politics".

            Young is the Ranking Member on the House Natural Resources Committee which conducted the hearing, and Sali is a Member of the Committee.

Rep. Don Young's Prepared Statement

            Mr. Chairman, the hearing today is called "ESA Implementation: Science or Politics."  The title of the hearing somehow tries to make the point that ESA decisions have been influenced by politics and are not based purely on science.

            While that may make a great headline, I afraid it is a little more complicated than that.  First of all, anyone who tells you that "science" provides just one correct answer is seriously mistaken.  Get 10 scientists in the same room and ask them a question about the decline of a species and they will probably come up with several different theories.  Let me repeat that - you'll get theories.  Science is not infallible nor are the answers to scientific questions clear cut.

            The title of the hearing also implies that scientists do not and cannot have biases or pre-conceived notions about their area of expertise.  Again, this is flat out wrong.  Scientists, just like everybody else, have biases which can affect their work.

Steller Sea Lion Listing Is An Example Of Questionable Listings

            Let's look back at the Steller sea lion debate as an example.  Under the Clinton Administration, and because of court action, the Steller sea lion was listed as endangered.  Despite 39 determinations by the expert agency and based on the advice of scientists that commercial fishing did not cause jeopardy to Steller sea lion populations, it was decided that we should limit the commercial harvest because now one scientist thought it was the cause of the decline.

            Of course, the scientist who wrote the biological opinion was a marine mammal biologist.  But his expertise was not Steller sea lions.  His expertise was another type of pinniped - Hawaiian Monk seals.  But I guess if you know about seals in warm water areas like Hawaii, you must also be an expert in cold water sea lions, right?   And if you understand nutritional needs of Hawaiian Monk seals, you must be an expert in Steller sea lion's needs.

            Well, this scientist apparently had a few personal views on what he wanted to do in this case.  Such strongly held views, as it turns out, that he refused to share the draft Biological Opinion with his supervisor, also a scientist, and ran back to Washington to give his draft to the political people at NOAA.

            The Biological Opinion raised a whole slew of possible causes of the decline - predation by killer whales, disease, toxic substances, entanglement in marine debris, commercial harvest of Stellers (yes, Japan had a culling program), subsistence harvest, natural environmental change, quality of available prey, etc. 

            It also listed a number of "Reasonable and Prudent Alternatives" (RPAs) to minimize the harm to Steller sea lions.  Impressively enough, the same "scientist" who wrote the Biological Opinion wrote the RPAs.  Interestingly, he wrote the RPAs - restrictions only on the fishing industry - before he finished the Biological Opinion.  Did he have an unbiased, "scientific" viewpoint?  And all of the RPAs were based on the hypothesis that fishing was the cause of the decline.

            One of the RPAs was to increase the size of the no-trawl zones around rookeries and haulouts (even haulouts that hadn't been in used in years according to the scientists) from three miles to 10 miles.  And this was done without the scientists ever coming to the conclusion that the no-trawl zones had any affect on the recovery of the Steller sea lion.   They just didn't know.  There was no scientific evidence that the no-trawl zones worked, because they had never tried to figure out whether they worked.  But I'm sure there was no politics or bias involved in those decisions.  It probably just sounded good, so why not. 

            The rest of the RPAs, again written by a Hawaiian Monk seal biologist who had little if any history in Alaska or with Alaskan fisheries, would have undone more than 10 years worth of fishery and habitat conservation measures.  The RPAs could have pushed vessels into areas that had been avoided because of habitat concerns.  It could have pushed vessels into areas that had been avoided because of bycatch concerns.  These RPAs did not take into account any of the existing fishery management provisions.  Why not?  Because the marine mammal scientists didn't feel the need to talk to the fisheries biologists within the same agency.  One scientist didn't want to talk to another scientist in another field who might have added some very valuable information to the equation. 

            At what point do policy makers need to step in and referee the scientists?  At what point do the policy makers need to make decisions on how human activities need to be modified to help animals recover?  At what point do policy makers need to assess the uncertainty of the science on an animals' biology or life cycle needs and make decisions that affect people's lives and livelihoods? 

            Now I am not naive.  There is always going to be a political aspect to the management of endangered and threatened species.  When you are requiring industries to change their operations to minimize the impact on species and you don't really know what is causing the decline of the species, there is going to have to be someone who makes decisions.  In the case of the Steller sea lion, a single biologist drove the decisions and they made the wrong ones.  The National Academy of Sciences did a review a few years later and one of their conclusions as to the cause of the decline was that other theories deserved equal consideration.

            Finally, Mr. Chairman, if we really want scientists to be the last and best decision makers on endangered species questions, then why do groups continue to run to the courts to get the court to substitute its judgment over the scientists and the policy makers.  Courts should not manage fisheries, they should not manage endangered species and they should not be put in the position to make scientific decisions.  And let's not pretend that this Administration is the first one to make policy decisions on endangered species when the science does not give them only one alternative.

Rep. Bill Sali's Statement

            Mr. Chairman, as someone who has spent a great deal of time reviewing the impact of the Endangered Species Act, I can assure everyone within the sound of my voice that no one who voted for this legislation ever envisioned that this Act would be used to smash the dreams of millions of Americans.

            Our forefathers who sacrificed everything for our freedom would be shocked to learn that Americans are unable to fully utilize their property because of a blind salamander, fairy shrimp, fountain darters, ground beetles and kangaroo rats.

            In fact, there are 2,489 domestic and foreign species listed under the Endangered Species Act. The Fish and Wildlife Service has designed critical habitat for 487 species. Yet, despite spending billions of dollars, designating millions of acres of critical habitat and disturbing the lives of millions of property owners who must, in some cases, pay extortion fees to develop their land, only eight domestic species have ever been "recovered" in more than 30 years.

ESA Has Been Hijacked By Misguided Judges & Radical Environmental Organizations

There is no question that politics and not the Department of the Interior are running the Endangered Species Act.  It has been hijacked by misguided federal judges and radical environmental organizations whose sole interest is not to recover species but to gouge themselves on taxpayer money.  The Fish and Wildlife Service has not initiated a listing decision on its own since 1995. Instead of recovering species, the Service must spend its meager dollars preparing and defending itself against an endless barrage of lawsuits.  It has gotten so bad that the Service has now hired a full-time attorney that does nothing except monitor the legal filings against the agency.

            This is not a new problem.  It started in the Clinton Administration and has continued unabated in the Bush Administration.  Organizations, like the Center for Biological Diversity, know they can go to federal court and sue the agency over a listing or critical habitat designation.  They know they will win and be handsomely compensated for suing and they can then hire more lawyers to file, or threaten to file, more lawsuits.  Meanwhile, species continue to languish on the Endangered Species Act with little, if any, hope of ever recovering.  This Act has become a powerful weapon to stop or limit development in this country.

            Mr. Chairman, instead of criticizing political appointees within the Department of the Interior for doing their job, this institution would be better served by asking how we can improve the Endangered Species Act. There is no one who can objectively say that this program is working effectively with a less than one percent recovery rate because the only entity that is profiting from the Act are those groups who endlessly sue the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

            In the past four years, millions of dollars has been paid to litigants in hundreds of court cases. Just imagine, if these funds had been used for the original purpose of the Act which was to recover and then remove species from the list.

            It is time to stop this madness. Federal policy makers have a right to question the conclusions of career biologists.  These employees are hardworking dedicated public servants but they are not infallible. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses and want to hear their perspectives on how we can restore the Endangered Species Act to its original intent.  


For more information, access the Committee on Natural Resources' Minority website at:



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