The Endangered Species Coalition, an umbrella group of over 100 organizations, just threw out one of its own. In mid-April, the Coalition booted the Environmental Defense Fund and severely reprimanded the Center for Marine Conservation and the World Wildlife Fund.
Their offense? Some members
of these groups had been holding secret meetings with industry
leaders, including Georgia Pacific, the National Association of
Realtors, and Plum Creek Timber Company. Their hope was to find
common ground on the Endangered Species Act; the result of these
get-togethers was a plan to reauthorize the ESA but to make it more
user-friendly to landowners.
Michael Bean, a
longtime staffer with the Environmental Defense Fund in Washington,
D.C., says he initiated talks because the act can be reauthorized
only if environmentalists, industry and private property owners can
reach agreement. Reauthorization of the ESA has been at an impasse
since September, when House Speaker Newt Gingrich pulled a bill,
sponsored by Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., and Rep. Don Young,
R-Alaska, that would have gutted the law. A less drastic bill by
Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Md., and Rep. Jim Saxton, R-N.J., failed in
committee (HCN, 11/13/95).
Bean says that every
day that passed without action felt to him like a species dying.
Funding cuts to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the year-old
moratorium on listing species as endangered had severely hampered
enforcement of the act. But he was most concerned that landowners,
with no incentives to help endangered species, were destroying
habitat - chopping down trees or plowing fallow fields - before
anyone could discover an endangered species on their property.
As the months passed, Saxton decided he had the
political muscle to try his bill again. According to Saxton
spokesman Gary Gallant, Saxton was garnering support from
conservative Midwest Republicans who told him that they were ready
to compromise. Saxton and other moderate Republicans also met with
the growing alliance between environmentalists and industry that
Bean had put together. Now, Gallant says, Saxton is ready to
introduce a bill that incorporates the group's conclusions.
This bill would offer landowners tax deferrals
if they participate in the recovery of species. It would also
legalize a policy introduced by Secretary of the Interior Bruce
Babbitt in 1995, which guarantees landowners no change in their
habitat conservation plan even if other endangered species are
found on their land. But unlike the Young-Pombo bill, it does not
force taxpayers to pay landowners if an endangered species is found
to reduce the value of their property.
drafts of Saxton's bill became public earlier in the month, middle
ground proved to be unsafe territory for everyone. An incensed
Pombo berated the industry groups for meeting with the
environmentalists. Endangered Species Coalition leaders accused
Bean and other "renegades' of violating an agreement not to hold
covert discussions about the ESA, according to Jasper Carlton of
the Biodiversity Legal Foundation.
At the core
is a disagreement about political strategy. Many environmentalists
in the coalition say that the solid defeat last year of the
Young-Pombo bill meant environmentalists should hold firm and not
compromise too early. While most members of the Endangered Species
Coalition agree that landowners need more incentives to protect
species, they fear Bean's solution sacrifices the regulatory teeth
of the ESA in an attempt to provide incentives on private land.
Coalition member Carlton, who has litigated the ESA hundreds of
times, says Bean's approach hands too much veto power to the states
and gives industry too much say in creating recovery plans.
Members of the coalition just unveiled their
Endangered Natural Heritage Act, a set of proposals that
strengthens the ESA through tougher penalties, stronger measures to
prevent declining species from becoming endangered, and more
protection for plants. The act does not yet have a sponsor in
Congress and Bean says it is so idealistic it won't influence
But Brian Vincent of the Northwest
Ecosystem Alliance, who helped write the Heritage Act, says it's
time for activists to take the offensive. "EDF didn't have a full
appreciation of the energy and enthusiasm of the grassroots," says
Brian Vincent. "It is an extremely assertive force that can
significantly shape debate."
have been arguing over tactics since the act came up for
reauthorization four years ago. Hank Fischer of Defenders of
Wildlife, a coalition member, says this turmoil is just another
chapter: "The tension is always there. I give points to Michael
(Bean) for moving us forward so we have something new to talk
Carlton has a bleaker view of the
schism: "This is the wrong time for war in the environmental
movement. We already have a major split between grassroots and
mainstream. The Republicans will divide and conquer."
For more information contact Rep. Jim Saxton,
R-N.J., at 202/225-0778 or for information on the Endangered
Natural Heritage Act call Brian Vincent of the Northwest Ecosystem
Alliance at 360/671-9950.