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Keystone Center talks endangered species

BOB BERWYNsummit daily news

SUMMIT COUNTY – While many endangered species debates are characterized by polarization and politics, a recent working group convened by the Keystone Center sought some middle ground in hopes of making the fundamental environmental law more effective and less divisive.”We have our own endangered species issues right here in Colorado and Summit County, whether its lynx or boreal toads,” said Keystone Center president Peter Adler, explaining why his organization’s findings are relevant to High Country residents. “How these laws work is important.”The Endangered Species Act gives federal agencies the ability to enact stringent land-use restrictions to protect habitat for rare plants and animals. Thus, the law has engendered some harsh criticism from property owners and developers. The Republican majority in Congress is poised to consider some drastic changes to the act, which threaten to gut the landmark law, according to conservation advocates.”We were trying to find ways to lengthen the carrot and shorten the stick,” Adler said. “We were looking for ways to get landowners involved in what everybody agrees is an important effort.”The findings of the working group were delivered in a Feb. 17 letter to six U.S. senators who asked the Keystone Center to facilitate the dialogue in May 2005. The text of the letter, including detailed recommendations, is available at http://www.keystone.org/spp/env-esa.html.”Although the participants in this group came to the table with significantly different perspectives, they engaged in high-level, productive discussions, the results of which will be extremely helpful to Congress as it considers changes to the Endangered Species Act,” Adler said.The group specifically recommended enhancing incentives for non-federal property owners as a way to promote the recovery of endangered species. That could include significant tax breaks for conservation efforts, Adler said.A second key focus of the working group was to change the structure of the endangered species process by linking critical habitat designation with comprehensive recovery plans rather than with the initial listing.”People go into these critical habitat discussions and fight like crazy,” Adler said, explaining that those fights often detract attention from the need to plan for recovery.Linking critical habitat designations with the initial listing decision is like hospitalizing a patient and prescribing a course of medication without doing the diagnostics, Adler said.Part of the reason federal agencies don’t plan adequately for recovery is a shortage of funds. Adler said that implementing some of the suggestions developed by the working group could make the process work more smoothly, with less litigation, freeing up funds for recovery efforts.The working group also recommended changes to the so-called Section 7 consultation process, which requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to judge whether a given project (i.e. housing development, ski area expansion) will adversely modify habitat to the point that it will further threaten a listed species.Section 7 is the legal hammer that can, in some cases, result in severe land-use restrictions.In the next few weeks, The Keystone Center will release the final report on the Endangered Species Act dialogue. The full text of the Feb. 17, 2006, letter and an executive summary as well as a complete list of working group participants and background on the dialogue can be viewed on The Keystone Center’s website at http://www.keystone.org.Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at bberwyn@summitdaily.com.


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