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Published: Sunday, 10/2/2005

In Congress' cross-hairs

That persistent pitter-patter coming from the direction of Washington, D.C., is the sound of ideologues in Congress trying to hustle one of this nation's most successful conservation laws toward oblivion.

The head hustler in this case is Rep. Richard Pombo, a California rancher whose disdain for the federal Endangered Species Act is exceeded only by his zeal for the radical (and misnamed) "property rights" movement.

In the topsy-turvy partisan playground that is today's U.S. House of Representatives, Mr. Pombo has been elevated to the chairmanship of the Resources Committee, which he takes as a license to re-establish dominion of the property developer over all things wild and wonderful.

Like the Florida panther, the manatee, the grizzly bear, the wolf, the condor, the bald eagle, and the 1,400 or so other creatures that the federal law has protected for natural propagation in the face of the relentless drive to put up new houses, shopping centers, and all manner of suburban sprawl.

In short, Mr. Pombo would gut the intent and operation of the Endangered Species Act, which has guarded threatened wildlife for more than 30 years, and he's trying to do it quickly, before the American public realizes what's happening.

The House blindly agreed on Thursday, approving a bill that was unveiled just 10 days earlier. This is what passes for thoughtful consideration in today's ideologically captive Congress.

Mr. Pombo's disingenuously named "Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act of 2005" has nothing to do with recovery, unless you believe that developers possess a divinely inspired plan for every scrap of vacant land left in America.

No, his proposal would not "modernize" or "update" the law, only circumvent it by eliminating independent oversight by federal fish and wildlife agencies in favor of the jaundiced eye of political appointees, and allowing these purposely temporary stewards of the nation's resources to substitute short-term economic considerations for science in the public interest.

Mr. Pombo will be successful with his mission only if the American public lets him get away with it.

Those who value the conservation of disappearing wildlife should direct their efforts now to the Senate and instruct their senators to stop the bum's rush being given the Endangered Species Act.

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