Saving US Flora, Fauna

THE National Endangered Species Act, which has been in effect for 20 years, is up for renewal when Congress reconvenes at the end of this month.

There is no likelihood that the wildlife-preservation act will be allowed to expire. But some significant changes are likely.

Many Americans feel that, while the wildlife-preservation law is limited in scope and power, it has been a boon to the preservation of flora and fauna. They are determined not only to save the act, but to expand its role.

Others - property owners who feel that their ability to fully utilize their assets is hampered by wildlife-preservation rules, as well as commercial fishermen and others who consider themselves reasonable people - apparently would be willing to see the law revised if that were necessary to protect what they consider their right to use their property as they see fit.

Currently leading the pro-property rights effort from his Capitol Hill vantage point is Rep. Billy Tauzin (D) of Louisiana. Mr. Tauzin makes it clear that he is not opposed to preservation of wildlife, wild lands, and waterways. But he is concerned lest, in the process, some Americans' rights are trampled.

One of the most active supporters of keeping and expanding the Endangered Species Act is Rep. Gerry Studds (D) of Massachusetts. He contends that an even stronger role can be borne by the economy and individual Americans.

Environmental issues create their own dynamic, outside of traditional political party alignments. Property rights are central to the debate - and sensitive.

Democratic legislators and their constituents are as much concerned about the right to utilize their ownership rights as are Republicans.

Whatever one's party affiliation, rescuing the national bird, the American Bald Eagle, from imminent extinction was one outcome of the act that was universally appreciated.

Can America have it both ways? Can property owners have full control over how they utilize their own land? Not quite; land and water ownership and use already are subject to regulation.

Congressman Studds wants the most strenuous effort possible to preserve birds, rivers, bears - all nature's features and creatures; Congressman Tauzin wants owners of natural resources to have the utmost right to own and use those assets in their own way.

Compromise seems likely.

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