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Pombo fires back at critics report on species act

Last updated: Thursday, Apr 28, 2005 - 06:51:36 am PDT

Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, is sparring with environmentalists again, this time over a report he asked the federal government's General Accounting Office for on the Endangered Species Act.

The 47-page GAO report came out Tuesday and was prepared in response to a request Pombo filed around a year ago. It's designed to evaluate the spending decisions that the Fish and Wildlife Service has made in trying to support the ESA.

Shortly after the report came out, Pombo's office at the House Resources Committee, which he chairs, put out a press release with the headline, "GAO Endangered Species Report: Little Reason to Expect Poor Recovery Record to Improve."

In this release, Pombo's office asserted that the report vindicated many of the statements he had been making about the ESA.

Pombo's release noted that "not a single animal with the highest recovery priority was among the 20 species receiving the most FWS recovery dollars" and that 92 percent of endangered species were listed in the top half of the priority rankings.

"If everything is a priority, then nothing is," said Brian Kennedy, press secretary for Pombo on the resources committee.

Pombo critics immediately jumped on the release. On Wednesday, the Center for Biological Diversity issued its own release, claiming that Pombo's office misinterpreted and twisted the report's conclusions.

"These are just Pombo's stock attacks on the ESA, and he's trying to put words in the mouth of the GAO," said Kieran Suckling, policy director for the center. "He has a long history of lying about the Endangered Species Act."

The center's statement brought up numerous issues with Pombo's release. For one thing, it said funding for different species is based not only on the level of threat but the amount of habitat, the types of threats and the measures needed to address them.

Priority was also given to species that were judged to have a higher chance of recovery.

"All you need to conclude that the Endangered Species Act has a poor recovery record is to look at the information posted on the Fish and Wildlife Web site," countered Kennedy. "You can disagree with the chairman's interpretation of the data, but to accuse him of lying is ridiculous and shameless."

Much of the crux of Pombo's critique of the ESA has hinged on his contention that it has failed because few species have recovered to the point where they can be taken off the endangered list.

While representatives of the GAO did not return calls for comment, the report's introduction states: "The purpose of the act is to conserve endangered and threatened species ... funding availability to recover species is only a small fraction of what federal scientists believe is needed."

Kennedy said that Pombo would be among the first to fight for greater funding once he has the reforms he wants.

He went on to characterize Pombo's critics as a small group of Bay Area environmentalists who could generate press coverage in California but were virtually ignored in Washington.

As an example, Kennedy cited Pombo's supposed support for a bill to open up the U.S. coasts to offshore oil drilling. While environmentalists are fond of using this alleged bill as a scare tactic, Kennedy said, it doesn't exist.

George Miller, D-Martinez, said that Pombo's efforts to overhaul the ESA have gotten a lot of attention in Washington, even if the stories have sometimes been lost among the flurry of recent coverage about Tom DeLay and Terri Schiavo.

"To suggest that no one in Congress disagrees with him on this is false," Miller said. "He says that the Endangered Species Act has been ineffective while supporting a bill that prevents Fish and Wildlife from using habitat for recovery."

The bill in question, The Critical Habitat Enhancement Act (House Resolution 1299), was proposed by another congressman from Northern California, Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced. Pombo is not a sponsor, but has voiced support for the bill. According to Miller, it severely restricts which lands can be classified as critical habitat.






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