# ScienceScope

Science  13 Dec 1996:
Vol. 274, Issue 5294, pp. 1827
1. # Canada Debates Species Protection Act

As Canada considers adopting its first law to protect endangered species, scientists have become embroiled in a heated debate over whether a bill unveiled this fall will be too weak to protect plants and animals at risk of extinction.

A government advisory panel of biologists, environmentalists, and industry groups began drafting an endangered species act in 1995, and last May released a final proposal. Like the U.S. law, it would prohibit harming species at risk or damaging their nests or dens. But critics point to several gaps that turned up when the Environment Ministry presented the draft bill to Parliament this fall. One is its scope: The law would protect only aquatic species, some migratory birds, and any species on federal lands. That would leave unprotected about 60% of the 254 species listed as at risk, including animals that cross national borders, such as the grizzly bear, peregrine falcon, and burrowing owl. Beyond this, “the big shortcoming,” says ecologist David Schindler of the University of Alberta, is that the law wouldn't mandate protection of habitats. Also troubling to scientists is that the bill would give final say on listing species not to the experts, but to the federal Cabinet.

The bill is less aggressive than some would like, says Stewart Elgie of the Sierra Legal Defence Fund, in part because Ottawa wants to leave it to provinces to protect specieson their lands. But Elgie and others say only a national law makes sense. More than 200 scientists are expected to sign a letter urging Prime Minister Jean Chretien to strengthenthe final law, which will be hashed out in the coming months.

Unwise decision? The burrowing owl wouldn't be protected by draft Canadian law.

BARBARA J. WRIGHT/ANIMALS, ANIMALS

4. # Lawmakers Jostle for Committee Chairs

Members of Congress are winding up their post-election scramble to run committees, andsome new faces are appearing on panels affecting science.

The big change in the Senate is the replacement of retiring Appropriations Committee chair Mark Hatfield (R-OR), a fan of biomedical research, by Ted Stevens (R-AK). Meanwhile, James Jeffords (R-VT) is replacing Nancy Kassebaum (R-KA) as chair of the Labor and Human Resources Committee, which hopes to write a new authorization bill for the National Institutes of Health. Dan Coats (R-IN)—an abortion opponent—had indicated he might challenge Jeffords for the job, but in the end, he did not. Capitol Hill scuttlebutt had it that Coats might head a new health subcommittee, but staffers now say no such panel is planned.

The Senate Commerce Committee, which has oversight of much of civilian R&D, will be led by John McCain (R-AZ). Last session, the former Navy pilot proposed forcing federal technology programs to conform to peer-review standards, and was a leading critic of the Advanced Technology Program.

In the House, Joseph McDade (R-PA) will take over the subcommittee that oversees energy spending. McDade recently returned to Congress after being acquitted of charges of improperly accepting gifts and lost a bid to chair the full Appropriations Committee. Hill staffers say he has little experience with energy research issues and is known as an old-fashioned legislator partial to tagging funds for pet projects.