June 24, 2001 11:00 pm
SENATOR VISITS: Sen. Gordon Smith listens to comments at Saturday's forum on the Endangered Species Act. (The Observer/T.L. PETERSEN).
SENATOR VISITS: Sen. Gordon Smith listens to comments at Saturday's forum on the Endangered Species Act. (The Observer/T.L. PETERSEN).

By T.L. Petersen

Observer Staff Writer

No ones getting relief for any emergency in this country until the Klamath farmers get relief, U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., told the 28 people gathered Saturday at the Ag Services Center in Island City.

Smith, on a weekend visit to Eastern Oregon, talked to constituents in Baker City and Island City for about an hour and a half in each community. In Island City, his message was clear he was working to get help for the farmers left without irrigation water in the Klamath Basin, and he had reintroduced his bill from the last Congress to amend the federal Endangered Species Act.

The amended act would not permit such situations as occurred in the Klamath Basin, Smith said, and would do a better job of helping species recover, while addressing many of the concerns of property owners affected by the act.

The time has come to admit that there must be a better way to protect wildlife, Smiths legislative brief on the proposed changes says.

Smith said Saturday that the proposed changes in the act could create a battle.

Theres overwhelming weight in this country for the Endangered Species Act, he said, adding that the purpose of the act has been romanticized.

In my view, the real tragedy is that were beginning to herd farmers into food lines to meet the goal of protecting fish over people, he said.

In one long-term approach to a solution, Smith has reintroduced proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act that he first introduced under the Clinton administration. He said he was told then that his proposals could probably get Clintons approval, but the bill never made it to the discussion stage because of opposition from those opposed to any change, and those who didnt feel it went far enough.

Major components of Smiths proposal include increasing the emphasis on the use of science, including peer reviews by scientists and establishing the definition of a recovery goal.

Additionally, Smiths plan would set deadlines for each special recovery plan.

States would play a larger role in implementing the act, up to assuming responsibility for drafting the recovery plan.

A major component of Smiths amendments would provide a broad range of incentives for private landowners to work toward species recovery, while ensuring that there would be no surprises for landowners.

My approach, Smith said, has roots in whats possible and pragmatic.

One problem could be that the Republicans no longer control the Senate. But Smith reminded those at the session that I have considerable tools of obstructivity to make sure my constituents are not rolled.

Smiths attempt to play the fields of the possible, as he said, drew a quick response from Sharon Beck, past president of the Oregon Cattlemens Association and a cattle producer from near Alicel.

You know I always play in the fields of the impossible, Beck began, then read a statement made during a June 14 meeting of natural resources groups in Oregon.

The statement focused on the belief that there are a few very important changes that must be made in the act. We strongly believe changing the act is possible because there are now so many who understand the evils in the act that can take our land, our water, our livelihood, our communities and our families futures.

Beck said the Oregon Natural Resource Alliance will meet in Bend July 19 to bring the needed changes in the federal act into focus, and she invited Smith to attend.

Smith, who said he would try to be at the Bend summit, clarified that he and his co-sponsors of the current bill are not seeking repeal of the Endangered Species Act, but just some common sense to be put back in and to make this good for us, too.

During an open comment period, Smith also gave his quick version of what happened to cause the current energy crisis, both in California and the Northwest, and explained some national efforts to free up funding for groups who are pursuing lawsuits against government agencies.

Theyre using your money to make lawsuits against you, Smith said, which is fundamentally unfair.

Before heading for Pendleton, Smith offered a cautionary bit of advice about how the American system of government works: Great issues are solved slowly, he said, but peaceably.