August 20, 1995 in Nation/World

Chenoweth’s ‘Facts’ Fallacies, Group Says Experts Contradict Horror Stories In Her Speech, But Aide Says ‘She’s Not Making This Stuff Up’

By The Spokesman-Review

“We have the facts and the vision on our side,” U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth told a “wise use” conference last month as she was ripping apart the federal Endangered Species Act.

But instead of spreading gospel truth, the Idaho Republican delivered false teachings, a sportsmen’s group says.

The freshman congressman, speaking at the Wise Use Leadership Conference in Reno, Nev., in July, told a half-dozen horror stories about how people have been hurt by federal species protection.

The horror stories anger the mostly Republican Izaak Walton League, a conservation group which has been watching Chenoweth’s performance in Congress. “I’d tell Helen Chenoweth the same thing I’d tell Greenpeace,” said Paul Hansen, executive director of the league. “We really need to stay away from the inflammatory rhetoric and stick to the facts.”

Chenoweth’s speech focused on reviving the economy by opening the West to logging, mining and grazing. But the Endangered Species Act stands in the way, and often for no legitimate reason, she stated.

“Up around Clearwater County, in Idaho, they’re trying to introduce the grizzly bear without a shred of scientific evidence that the grizzly bear ever lived there. Ever,” Chenoweth said.

But Idaho state Sen. Laird Noh, R-Kimberly, says the state Grizzly Bear Recovery Committee on which he serves has been exposed to a considerable amount of just such evidence, all of it quite public. It “was one of the last wild areas to contain a grizzly bear population,” Noh said late last week.

Chenoweth is skeptical of grizzly reports and wonders if what people are calling grizzlies are actually large black bears, said Khris Bershers, Chenoweth’s press secretary.

The red-cockaded woodpecker, found in the Southeast, also was a casualty of Chenoweth’s speech. “Of course, they’re altering the flight patterns from Air Force bases because they don’t want to upset the breeding habitat of the red-cockaded woodpecker by having a plane fly overhead,” Chenoweth told the “wise use” group.

“It’s a secret to me if it’s happening,” counters Ralph Costa, recovery coordinator for the woodpecker for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Air Force Maj. Guy Thompson, a Pentagon spokesman, confirms that the bird hasn’t affected flights at any U.S. air bases.

Chenoweth’s next horror story grew out of the 1993 California wildfires. Some claim fire wouldn’t have spread to their homes if the federal government hadn’t prevented them from clearing weeds that are home to the endangered kangaroo rat.

“I stood on the spots where human homes were burned in preference for the habitat of the kangaroo rat,” Chenoweth said.

But the General Accounting Office came to the opposite conclusion about the fires, which were fanned by 80 mph winds. Fire experts determined that eliminating the weeds would “have made little difference in whether or not a home was destroyed in the California fire,” the GAO report said.

Chenoweth, recovering from surgery last week, relied on a House Republican Conference report for information on the California fires, spokeswoman Bershers said. That’s because GAO reports tend to “be a little biased,” Bershers said.

The congresswoman researches her examples. “She’s not making this stuff up and spinning yarns,” Bershers said.

But Hansen’s Izaak Walton League, a national hunting and fishing group dating back to Teddy Roosevelt’s day, doesn’t agree. Its members are people who believe conservation is a “neighborly vision of ‘how can we live together without hurting each other?”’ Hansen said.

“That tradition is alive and well, which is why our members are so horrified at the irresponsible, strident rhetoric of Helen Chenoweth.”

And this is no collection of liberals. Many of the people who belong to the Izaak Walton League also belong to the National Rifle Association, Hansen said.

In addition, economic horror stories stemming from the Endangered Species Act are the exception, Hansen said.

Fish and Wildlife Service statistics confirm that. Fifty-four development projects were withdrawn or killed between 1987 and 1992 because of review under the law, said Ken Burton, an agency spokesman. That’s only 2 percent of the thousands reviewed.

Chenoweth ended her speech to the “wise use” conference by talking about the consequences of too many environmental regulations.

In “the Yaak (river drainage), up in northern Idaho, where the forest is so dead that there is no biodiversity, there are no bugs flying around, there aren’t even any spiders crawling around,” Chenoweth said.

The Yaak actually is in northwestern Montana. And even Chenoweth realizes she was exaggerating, Bershers said. She just makes that kind of comment so people know how strongly she feels.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

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