Endangered Species Act Amended

Clifton R. Witt


The final session of the 95th Congress came to an end Sunday, October 17 after a marathon, around the clock, session that saw action on dozens of pieces of legislation. Among them was the first amendments to the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

The U.S. Senate had already passed a Bill introduced by Senator Wollop of Wyoming. The House version was introduced by members of the Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries and both bills went to a House-Senate Conference committee which put together what will be known as "The Endangered Species Act Amendments of 1978. ''

Most observers agree that these amendments were the result of Congressional dissatisfaction with the Supreme Court's ruling against the famous Tellico Dam project that was stopped because it would destroy the critical habitat of the Snail Darter, a three-inch, endangered, fish. While awaiting action on this Bill, the Office of Endangered Species was closed as of October 1 for lack of funding. During the "limbo" period of some 18 days, 195 government workers in this office were layed off and all work on the processing of permits, etc. (such as the AFA petition for CSSP status for the Scarlet Chested and Turquosine) was halted.

Highlights of the Amendments

I) The Act is funded from the period of October 1, 1978 to March 31, 1980 in the amount of $12,500,000.

2) The Act is amended so that there will be a mechanism to redesignate "critical habitat" of a species by the Secretary of the Department of the Interior if he finds that the benefits of doing so out-weigh the benefits of the survival of the species. Federal Agencies and other interested parties may petition the Secretary to change the "critical" designation. A temporary Review Board process will be set up to study the request and advise the permanent ''Endangered Species Committee" in each and every case. This Review Board will be made up of three members; one appointed by the President after considering the recommendations of the Governor(s) of the affected state(s), and an administrative law judge. The Board would, among other things, hold public hearings, and provide a summary of their findings to the Endangered Species Committee.

3) The Endangered Species Committee is established. It is comprised of seven members: The Secretary of Agriculture, the Secretary of the Army, the Secretary of the Interior, The Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. The seventh member shall be appointed by the President from the affected State(s) when an exemption is being sought. The Chairman of the Committee will be the Secretary of Interior. An exemption may be granted by a vote of five of the members voting in person.

4) All Raptors (Birds of Prey) in captivity at the time of enactment of these amendments are exempted from the Act as are their progeny until such time as they are released back into their natural habitat.

5) Special provisions are extended to the Tellico Dam project which eliminates much of the review process mentioned above and all but guarantees an exemption for that project. So much for the poor Snail Darter.

Important Significance for Aviculture

The significance of this to A viculture in the U.S. must not be underestimated. First of all, the very fact the Act has been amended means that the door has been opened for future amendments. Exempting captive Raptors and their progeny is the real "block-buster" however. It is an example of how a small group of dedicated aviculturists, namely the Falconers, accomplished what no other animal-interest group has been able to do. The amount and quality of work and perserverance that was required of them in this lobbying effort is impressive. They deserve our admiration, commendation, and sincere thanks. They have established a precedent which we hopefully will follow up by another amendment that changes the wording to '' all birds and animals in captivity,'' or the equivalent.

So that all AF A members interested in accomplishing such an action might understand the arguments that were used and the intent of the amendments, I....

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