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Senators Advocate Incentive Funds For Habitat Murray Is Among Lawmakers Saying Landowners’ Help Vital

Several senators are concerned there’s no money to finance incentives for landowners who would voluntarily protect fish and wildlife habitat under a proposed rewrite of the Endangered Species Act.

The private habitat reserves and cost-sharing programs for property owners are included in a bill by Sens. Dirk Kempthorne, R-Idaho, John Chafee, R-R.I., and Max Baucus, D-Mont.

Backers tout the incentives as substitutes for more intrusive government regulations prohibiting logging, mining and other development on private lands housing threatened and endangered species.

“This is the issue that has to be addressed to bring all sides together and get reauthorization of the Endangered Species Act signed into law,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said Wednesday.

“It is time now for the federal government to get serious about what could really be the show-stopper in this bill,” he said in a telephone interview from Portland.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., Patty Murray, D-Wash., and others joined Wyden this week in raising the concerns in a letter to Franklin Raines, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.

They said private property owners hold the key to saving many of the nation’s most imperiled wildlife species but that there may not be any money to pay for the measures in the bill, which was approved last month by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

“There is widespread support for these new incentives programs in both the environmental and landowner communities,” they said.

“However, there is also legitimate concern that the bill provides no assured funding mechanism for these new conservation tools,” they said.

Other signers of the letter were: Bob Graham, D-Fla., Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Daniel Moynihan, D-N.Y., Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

They said they want to work with OMB “prior to the time the bill goes to the floor, to develop a plan that would establish a dedicated source of funding for these new efforts…”

OMB officials had no immediate response on Wednesday.

Under the Kempthorne-Chafee bill, the government would share the cost of protecting species on private lands when landowners agree to create, restore or improve habitat. Programs also would be established to help landowners who carry out voluntary recovery plans for species protected under the act.

Annual costs are expected to be at least $100 million more than the government’s current program to protect fish and wildlife under the Endangered Species Act.

Interior Department Secretary Bruce Babbitt has offered support for the bill although the Clinton administration has taken no formal stand.

The administration is aware of the potential problem regarding money, Interior Department spokeswoman Stephanie Hanna said.

“In terms of our concerns about the bill, I would say that may be No. 1,” Hanna said Wednesday.

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