photo unavailable Preserving Hawaii

Charles Burrows,
Jeff Mikulina, Cha Smith,
and Marjorie Ziegler

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Hawaii has much to lose
if Congress weakens
Endangered Species Act

On Wednesday the U.S. House Resources Committee will vote on two bills that would significantly weaken the Endangered Species Act. Despite their disarming titles, these bills would reverse many years of positive efforts in Hawaii to conserve threatened and endangered species and their habitat.

The Critical Habitat Reform Act (HR 2933) would change the definition of critical habitat, making it more difficult -- if not impossible -- to designate unoccupied critical habitat. Unoccupied habitat is necessary to increase the populations and ranges of imperiled plants and animals so that eventually they can be taken off the endangered species list.

HR 2933 also would remove legal deadlines for designating critical habitat by combining the designation process with recovery plans. Currently there are no deadlines for developing or implementing recovery plans for listed species.

Over the years, in an effort to perpetuate our unique Hawaiian heritage for future generations, citizens have taken action to compel the listing and designation of critical habitat for more 250 threatened and endangered Hawaiian plants and animals.

Although some critical habitat was excluded (improperly, in our opinion) from the designations, those designations made will prevent federal agencies from taking actions that would destroy that habitat. This is particularly important in Hawaii because of the strong federal presence in the islands. These protections ensure that appropriate federal agency actions can take place without harming listed species or destroying critical habitat.

HR 1662, the "Sound Science in Endangered Species Act Planning Act" is just as worrisome. It would undercut the use of the best available science. It would give greater weight to particular kinds of science over others by restricting the use of tools -- such as statistical modeling -- and it would remove necessary checks and balances in the Endangered Species Act. Scientists -- not Congress -- should make decisions about what is needed to bring species back from the brink of extinction.

In the case of HR 1662, calling for more "science" is a blatant attempt to delay taking the actions necessary to protect biological diversity. Politicizing the science would only hasten the loss of our unique cultural and natural heritage.

Hawaii is home to more threatened and endangered species than anyplace else in the country. Citizen organizations, scientists and elected officials have worked hard for decades to increase protection for imperiled Hawaiian species and increase the chances that they will recover someday. We have so much to lose in Hawaii if the Endangered Species Act is weakened. We urge Hawaii's congressional delegation to oppose these ill-conceived bills.

Charles Burrows is president of 'Ahuhui Malama I Ka Lokahi; Jeff Mikulina is executive director of the Sierra Club, Hawaii Chapter; Cha Smith is executive director of KAHEA: The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance; and Marjorie Ziegler is executive director of the Conservation Council for Hawaii.


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