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Congressman Walden Shares Views with the NWRA on Improving Endangered Species Act,

July 20, 2004,  posted to KBC August 3, 2004

Congressman Greg Walden (R-OR) speaks to NWRA about his legislation, H.R. 1662, a bill to improve the quality of science used in the administering the Endangered Species Act.

Congressman Greg Walden (R-OR), sponsor of the “Endangered Species Data Quality Act of 2004” (H.R. 1662 and formerly titled the “Sound Science for Endangered Species Act Planning Act of 2003”), discussed Endangered Species Act issues and the mark-up of his legislation by the House Resources Committee with the National Water Resources Association (NWRA). Below is a transcript of the July 20 interview:

NWRA: Congressman, it is our understanding your legislation, H.R. 1662, the Sound Science for Endangered Species Planning Act of 2003, will be marked up Wednesday. What would you like to tell our members about this bill? How will your bill improve the Endangered Species Act?

CONGRESSMAN WALDEN: The legislation will improve the Endangered Species Act in at least two ways, first it requires peer review. This is a requirement we have in research and projects done by the FDA, by the EPA, even the No Child Left Behind Act requires peer review and sound science. These are principles that we’ve used in developing research and health care, medicine, and in many other areas of science. It seems incredible to me that we don’t require that basic scientific principle in peer review in the decision as to whether or not a species is going to live or die; whether or not a community, economically, may live or die, based on the consequences of decisions. So the first important improvement is requiring independent peer review. The National Academy of Science signs on decisions to list, or de-list a species, recovery programs, and consultations. The second point is that we set up standards for the science to make sure that the data used conform to standard scientific principles, and give preference to field data and peer review data. So, that when decisions are made under the Endangered Species Act we give the highest credence to the data that meet the highest standards: field gathered, tested, and peer reviewed. So those two principles, I think, are really important improvements to the Endangered Species Act, to make it work better for the species and for the people. Finally, we open the door for greater availability of the data to the public. The data that we use in making these decisions - too the often the public doesn’t have access to the data upon which the decision is based. And second, we give a greater opportunity for affected landowners to submit their own data and have it considered as well. Finally, we also give a role for states to participate in the decision making process. We have some extraordinary capabilities at the state level through fish and wildlife departments, departments of environmental quality and other scientific services at the state level that could play a very valuable role in determining the decisions that should be made under the Endangered Species Act. All too often they’re not consulted. So, I think we fix the data to a higher standard, we give greater credence for data that’s peer reviewed and meets a high standard. The object here is to get the best possible science from as many sources as possible, get the best minds in America to review that data and make sure we’re making decisions good for the future of the species, and good for people.

NWRA: Once your bill is reported, are you hopeful enough time remains to move your bill to the floor?

CONGRESSMAN WALDEN: I’m hopeful, and I think we’ll have that opportunity. I also recognize that this is a long-term process. The Endangered Species Act has not been improved in thirty years. . It’s hard to get change in an Act that can be so polarizing politically. But, just as we took the time to get improvements in how we manage our forests by passing the Healthy Forests Restoration Act, we can get this done as well.

NWRA: Last Saturday, on the 17th, there was a field hearing in Klamath Falls on the Klamath project’s water situation. How did the field hearing go? Were you happy with it?

CONGRESSMAN WALDEN: I was pleased with the hearing. We had an excellent turnout of members. There were five of us there from the Resources Committee, which, for a field hearing is a huge turnout. We had a great panel of witnesses from a diverging set of viewpoints, but all agree that peer review is something that they could support, and we got into some local issues on Klamath. The reason I wanted the hearing in the Klamath Basin was that there was no clearer view of the need to fix the Endangered Species Act than the view that came out of what happened in 2001 when the water was cut off without proper refund payments. What happened there should not happen anywhere ever again. We had two biological opinions, one from the Fish and Wildlife Service and one from the National Marine Fisheries Service. They collided in a drought year and the result was that no water went to the farmers. When those principle decisions were reviewed, at my request and others, by the National Academy of Sciences, the council came back and said these two big decisions that resulted in the water cut-off weren’t based on sound science, didn’t rely on historical facts, and should not have been made. It struck me then, and it’s been my passion since, that that shouldn’t happen again and that we should change the Act so that you get a second opinion. Similarly, if you go to the doctor and the doctor says ‘I’m going to have to cut off your right leg,’ you’d probably get a second opinion. You usually get second opinions for something that dramatic and, in the Endangered Species Act; there is no opportunity for a second opinion. They just cut you off at the knees. Certainly there will be instances where judgment will prevail, judgment based on scientific background. I realize that’s going to happen here and sometimes it has to happen quickly. We need to figure out how to manage that, but these judgments need to be based on better science than what they’re based on today, and they need to be peer reviewed.

NWRA: Your farmers and the Klamath Water Users Association have done a lot since 2001 to conserve water for fish. What needs to be done now?

CONGRESSMAN WALDEN: There is a long list of things that need to be done, but let me narrow it to two that I think are the most important. One is the removal of Chiloquin Dam, which is a broken-down, diversion dam that diverts water into the canal from Modoc Point Irrigation District The whole dam is in really bad shape: Two of the three fish ladders are down to just metal rebar…little hard for the fish to climb up rebar…; it blocks ninety-five percent of the habitat for the Suckers and is the principle reason the Sucker Fish were listed in 1988; and it was cited in the biological opinion of 1993 as the main impediment to the Sucker recovery. I got language in the Farm Bill in 2002 for a one-year study to figure out what to do about the problem. We brought groups together and the consensus is that we need to do something about fish passage at the dam - we all knew that.

We need to hold the irrigators harmless in this process. I believe we need to set up some sort of fund so that people can contribute to the pumping cost. It does save the maintenance of five or six miles of canal, but it’s a critical element to restoring a healthy Sucker habitat. And without that you’re going to be trapped in ESA problems forever.

Second, after Chiloquin Dam, is storage. That is probably the biggest issue we face - how do we increase storage in the basin? A few years ago, we passed legislation calling on the Bureau of Reclamation to study conservation and additional storage. There are some opportunities in the basin to add to storage. Some of that can be done along the lake, where you could store up to three hundred thousand acre feet of water, and have it available to use at appropriate times.

Some of what we need to do, in addition to storage and fish passage at Chiloquin Dam, is improve some of the marsh areas, which will improve habitat. And we probably need to work on restocking the fishery as well. And then there are issues downstream in California to promote fish passage, as well as some additional storage opportunities there. What we want to end up with is, not only adequate stream flows, but the right water. And warm water out of Klamath Lake in the summer actually hurts the fish, not helps them. We need cold water, and there are areas where we can enhance the cold water storage availability.

NWRA: How much storage do your farms need?

CONGRESSMAN WALDEN: It’s not just the farmers that need the storage. It’s the harbors, it’s the refuge, it’s the whole system. I think that if we can get an additional three or four hundred-thousand acres of storage capability, we would meet the needs of the basin.

NWRA: Do you feel the respective federal agencies have been sufficiently pro-active in solving this problem?

CONGRESSMAN WALDEN: They have gotten much better under the Bush Administration, I will tell you that. Under the Clinton Administration, it felt like the goal was to shut down the Project and eliminate agriculture from the basin. The incoming administration had barely been on the job a couple of months, and they were trapped. They had to shut the water-off, a decision teed-up from the prior eight years. Since that time, the President has made it a huge priority of his. He formed the second cabinet-level working group in his administration to focus specifically on problems in the Klamath Basin and they stepped up efforts to screen the A Canal that had been languishing for years. Getting that done now prevents tens of thousands of Sucker larvae from going into farmers’ fields, but staying in the river system instead. The Administration has been a big help on the Chiloquin Dam studies as well. They’ve been a big partner, trying to bring relief money into the basin, trying to bring disaster aid into the basin. We couldn’t have done it without this administration.

NWRA: Finally, Congressman, what would you ask of NWRA members, what can we do to help you resolve the Klamath situation, as well as with your legislation?

CONGRESSMAN WALDEN: I think the most important thing we can do is educate members of Congress who lack an understanding of the need to fix the Endangered Species Act. Having peer review, putting in place standards where science and data are already used elsewhere in the government only strengthens the Act. We’re strengthening it by adding another set of eyes and better parameters around the data. And although I always enjoy talking to members, I’m already leading this fight and am on their side. They need to talk to members of Congress who are not with us and try to educate them that is what’s most needed.

NWRA: Species are too important to give up.

CONGRESSMAN WALDEN: They are, and that’s been the trouble over the course of this debate. Some groups out there say that any change to the ESA is ‘gutting it.’ It’s tragic that, where we use peer review for all these other issues from No Child Left Behind, to clean water, to food and drugs, to the National Institutes of Health, that we wouldn’t use peer review science to save a species from extinction. Why not? I can’t answer that one because it seems to go against common sense. Hopefully we’ll find a balance and we’ll get this done. I’m optimistic and I’m not going to quit until we succeed.





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