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Debra Davis
(334) 613-4686

MONTGOMERY The state's largest industry could be threatened if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pushes through its proposed listing of the Alabama sturgeon as an endangered species, said Jerry Newby, president of the Alabama Farmers Federation.

Newby said such a listing could place needless restrictions on agricultural operations throughout the state. He questioned the need and the timing of the Fish and Wildlife Service's decision to move forward with the proposed listing.

A hearing to discuss the placement of the sturgeon on the endangered species list has been set for 7 p.m., Thursday at the Montgomery Civic Center. Newby said he encourages farmers, landowners and all citizens interested in protecting land-use rights to attend the meeting.

"There is a cooperative, ongoing effort in the state that implements a voluntary conservation plan that was developed by the State of Alabama, local residents and congressional delegates in cooperation with the Fish and Wildlife Service," Newby said. "This voluntary plan was designed to avoid the political controversy of a listing and the adverse economic and social impact our state would experience with such a listing. At the very least, I would expect the Fish and Wildlife Service to give the voluntary plan a chance to be successful."

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby echoed Newby's concerns. "The listing of the sturgeon will ultimately require development of a recovery plan identical to the existing voluntary conservation plan," Shelby said. "So what is gained? Listing the sturgeon only delays the conservation process and therefore the recovery of the species. This strikes me as bad policy and bad politics. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbit has promised us increased flexibility in the use of the Endangered Species Act to avoid train wrecks created by controversial listings. We thought we had found that with the conservation plan. But, he is now apparently intent on strapping the sturgeon to the train tracks with this ill-advised re-proposal for the second time in six years."

Both Newby and Shelby described the current recovery plan as viable and effective, adding that it utilizes state and local options for protecting the sturgeon, without the significant and burdensome costs and restrictions that would result from a formal listing.

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