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Rocky Mountain News

Speakout: Species act study mangles its facts

By Rep. Richard Pombo
April 16, 2006

In response to Kenneth Duncan's Speakout column of April 2, "Endangered Species Act working," I'd like to set the record straight regarding a recent study by the Center for Biological Diversity that claims to evaluate the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act in Northeastern states.


This study can be summed up by the old adage: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics."


The center's report covered the first two, so let's get to the statistics. Can one discern an unscholarly face behind the mask of the center's thick, glossy and full-color report dappled with pretty pictures, graphs and footnotes? It's not too hard.


The report purports to be about the species act's "success" in the Northeast. But anyone who bothers to read it will be surprised to learn that, according to the center, the Florida manatee is a Northeastern species success story. The report also includes the whooping crane. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, whooping cranes occur in states like Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Montana, North and South Dakota, Nebraska and that other famously Northeastern state, Florida. This is some remarkable biological gerrymandering.


The report also touts several whale species that have impressive upward population trends with graphs beginning when the act was passed in 1973.

Yet, a closer look reveals it's only the graphs that started in 1973, not the upward population trends. Many whale populations began rebounding as whaling tapered off, something that happened long before the Endangered Species Act.


There's a host of other mangled facts in the center's "report," leading those who skim its findings to believe, for example, that peregrine falcons and bald eagles have increased in number because of the act. These successes are, again, primarily attributable to other factors - like the ban on DDT - which preceded the species act.


The center's "report" does not prove the species act has been a success in the Northeast, or anywhere else for that matter. In fact, perhaps the Office of Management and Budget put it best in its latest assessment of the endangered species program: "While the program has a clear purpose, the program lacks long-term outcome and annual output-oriented performance measures to assess results . . . It is difficult to determine whether the program, including regulated activities, is effective, achieving results and maximizing net benefits." After more than 30 years, it is evident the act is not as effective as it should be, which is why the House, with strong bipartisan support, passed House Bill 3824. This legislation will improve and modernize the Endangered Species Act and promote recovery by turning conflict into cooperation.


I encourage Duncan, as well as the Center for Biological Diversity's researchers, to spend less effort shopping around mangled facts and more time learning about the law's real shortcomings. Perhaps then we can finally get to work improving our nation's endangered species program.


U.S. Rep. Richard W. Pombo, R-Calif., is chairman of the House Committee on Resources.

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