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Herger wants ESA changed; Lawmaker says landmark law lacks flexibility

Redding Record-Searchlight 7/6/05 by Tim Hearden, staff writer

U.S. Rep. Wally Herger is taking another crack at changing the Endangered Species Act, a feat he's tried in virtually every Congress since 1997.

The Chico Republican aims to add flexibility to the landmark 1973 environmental legislation by ensuring that levee repairs and other efforts to protect human life aren't hampered by lengthy delays.

Herger's latest legislation amends the ESA's "consultation" process to allow flood protection districts and other agencies to avoid such maintenance hang-ups.

"I can't imagine that anyone ever envisioned that protecting species would take precedence over protecting people when Congress adopted the ESA over 30 years ago," Herger said. "The Endangered Species Act is a well intentioned law, but it provides absolutely no flexibility."

Herger last week sent a letter to Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, who chairs the House Resources Committee, requesting that his bill be included in a larger package of Endangered Species Act reforms.

The effort is only Herger's latest volley against the act that's often maligned by loggers, farmers and developers. Last summer, he was one of four members of Congress who attended a meeting on proposed ESA changes in Klamath Falls, Ore., where protests resulted from the shutoff of water to farmers in 2001 to save endangered fish.

 Herger has tried to change the act to hasten levee repairs since 1997, when a levee break in Arboga, near Marysville, resulted in three deaths. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had warned seven years earlier that the levee was in dire need of repair, but efforts to preserve the Valley Longhorn Elderberry Beetle slowed repairs.

Herger's bill requires consultation between the Corps and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to be completed within 60 days if levees have been determined to pose a major risk to human life. After 60 days, endangered species can be "rescued" to make way for repairs.

"It is absolutely critical that the ESA's goal of protecting endangered species does not prevent essential structural improvements that can save human life," Herger said.

In other business, Herger has signed on as a co-sponsor of fellow Republican Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan's bill to encourage homeownership among veterans.

The "American Veterans Homeownership Act of 2005" would enable veterans of recent military operations to qualify for special, low-interest mortgage loans. It removes a requirement that veterans must have served before 1977.  #







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