An Evaluation of the Endangered Species Act and Private Landowner Assurances. (Special Series Part I -- Education in Action)

Article excerpt


Good afternoon. My name is Corinne Conner. I am a Fish and Wildlife Service biologist in Austin, Texas. I am also a joint owner and manager of Bee Cave Oaks Development, Inc., a development company that operates out of Austin. Except for my four years in college, I have been a lifelong resident of Austin. I grew up on the south side of town; my father worked for the city until I was six, when he bought a small ranch about six miles east of Austin. We lived on that ranch my entire life; it was his sweat and blood. I now own that ranch and live there with my husband and two children. Since my father's passing, my husband and I have acquired the land adjacent to my family's ranch as well. This area is known as the Seven Oaks Ranch. With Austin expanding rapidly in our direction, Seven Oaks' northern-most boundary now almost lies within the city limit.

Today I am here to discuss re-authorization of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). You may wonder why a small town rancher would care about the Endangered Species Act at all. There are two reasons. First, I received a bachelor's degree in wildlife ecology from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. While a student, I studied endangered species and habitat conservation. In fact, my final project as a senior was to develop a habitat conservation plan for an endangered bird. I currently work as a biologist in the Ecological Services department of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ("the Service").

Secondly, the Endangered Species Act directly affects how I am allowed to manage and develop my land. Bee Cave Oaks Development, Inc., has intended to develop Seven Oaks Ranch for several years, until the discovery of breeding pairs of golden-cheeked warblers (Dendroica chrysoparia) on the property. The warbler has been listed as endangered since 1990. As a biologist, I was thrilled to discover at least six more breeding pairs of these rare birds. As a landowner and developer, I was devastated. I was the author of the Environmental Assessment and Habitat Conservation Plan for the Incidental Take of an endangered species on my own property. Today, I am hoping to use my experiences and knowledge to convince the Senate that changes should be made to the ESA before re-authorization. In particular, I will address private landowner tools, and argue that the administrative policies associated with Section 10(A)(1)(a) should be maintained in the ESA, while those associated with Section 10(A)(1)(b) should be removed.

The ESA has been in poor favor with private landowners since its creation in 1973. A good proportion of the United States' endangered, threatened, and declining species are found on private lands and rely on sound management and conservation of these lands for restoration. While many private landowners are cooperative in managing their lands to benefit natural resources, increased financial commitments and regulations on use of their land has made other landowners reluctant to implement conservation measures. For example, if the landowner's conservation measures are a success, the species may increase in number or other endangered species may inhabit their land. This could cause increased restrictions on their private land -- land which many westerners (in particular the Wise Use movement) already view as overly regulated and restricted.

Because private lands constitute such a great proportion of endangered species habitat, it is important for the Service to compromise and cooperate with private landowners for the benefit of species. In addition, private landowners need to feel that their private rights will be maintained and that they have freedom of action on their own land. It was for these reasons that Enhancement of Survival Permits and Habitat Conservation Plans were created.

Essentially, there are three options provided to private landowners in the ESA and through the new policies associated with Section 10. …