TRINIDAD, Calif. -- The Endangered Species Act, passed in 1973, currently
provides federal protection for more than 300 species of plants and animals
At the heart of the ESA controversy currently raging before Congress is the
charge that the law does not consider or mitigate economic losses.
House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo, R-Calif., introduced
radical changes to the ESA with House Bill 3824. The bill has passed the
House of Representatives and is currently in the Senate Committee on
Environment and Public Works.
The bill promises to pay private landowners market value for their land
affected by the ESA. However, it also throws out the "critical habitat"
portion of the law, essentially ripping out the law's heart.
Many, including American Indians, have been affected by the ESA.
People are unemployed and land development is at a stand-still, say Pombo
Tribes, environmentalists, commercial fishermen and others say critical
habitat is crucial for species to survive.
Sea lions and grizzly bears in northern California are federally protected
under the ESA but, according to tribal members, seem to be doing pretty
well on the Yurok Reservation.
Fishermen complain that sea lions can quickly empty their nets: "I'll have
about 20 in there, then I see the shadow ... and pull [the net] as fast as
I can ... I'll be lucky to get three in the boat," said Yurok fisherman
David Gensaw Sr.
Perhaps most frustrating for fishermen is the sea lion's seemingly wasteful
nature: they tend to take one bite then discard the rest.
People say that bears ransack their homes in search of food, ripping siding
off houses and breaking windows to gain entry, and leaving quite a mess in
This is nothing new in Yurok country, because sea lions and grizzlies have
always been part of Yurok life on the Klamath River. Yurok men transform
sea lion pelts into ceremonial drums, and bears are considered reincarnated
However, pesticides and herbicides are a new addition to Yurok lifeways.
Pesticides and herbicides were not considered under the original ESA law.
But in the case of Washington Toxics Coalition v. Environmental Protection
Agency, the U.S. District Court of western Washington ordered the
Environmental Protection Agency to include pesticides within the scope of
the ESA when considering the critical habitat of threatened and endangered
Pacific salmon and steelhead -- 26 species in total.
Chief Judge John Coughenour handed down the January 2004 order concerning
pesticide usage and, according to the EPA, "This order is in effect until
the Environmental Protection Agency and, when appropriate, the National
Marine Fisheries Service have completed an evaluation of whether endangered
Pacific salmon and steelhead are sensitive to exposure from 55 pesticides."
Coughenour also ordered interim buffer zones to protect salmon-supporting
waters in Washington, Oregon and California.
Green Diamond Resource Co. (formerly known as Simpson Resource Co.) owns
vast amounts of land in the West, including nearly two-thirds of the Yurok
Reservation. The company has sprayed the land, by ground and by air, for
more than 20 years. Green Diamond provides a "24-hour notice" before aerial
spraying, giving tribal members one day to either leave or hunker down.
The prized Chinook salmon, which happen to be central to Yurok diet and
culture, is federally protected in other parts of California, but not in
the Klamath River. Many, including environmentalists, are confident that
Klamath Chinook will be listed in the near future.
Basketry is also an integral part of Yurok culture. Along with traditional
foods, pesticides cover basket and other materials as they grow: and then
people gather the material. According to its Web site, the California
Indian Basketweavers Association reports complaints of respiratory
ailments, heart disease and cancer in communities surrounding the Lower
Klamath River. United Indian Health Services has issued warnings concerning
the possible health hazards associated with collecting traditional