WASHINGTON — Arkansas Farm Bureau President Randy Veach told a House panel Tuesday that overzealous federal agencies have made the American farmer and rancher "the species most threatened here."

WASHINGTON — Arkansas Farm Bureau President Randy Veach told a House panel Tuesday that overzealous federal agencies have made the American farmer and rancher "the species most threatened here."


"We are being marginalized right out of business by overregulation from federal agencies acting beyond the intentions of Congress," Veach said during testimony before the House Natural Resources Committee.


The committee held a hearing on six bills aimed at reforming the Endangered Species Act, including one by Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, that would require the Department of Interior to fully consider economic impact when designating new critical habitat.


The legislation, which Veach supports, was drafted in response to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Agency’s proposal to designate more than 40 percent of Arkansas as a critical habitat for the protection of the Neosho mucket and Rabbitsfoot mussel.


The designation, which would protect the two freshwater mussels under the federal Endangered Species Ac, would affect about one-third of Arkansas’ property owners.


Veach said the proposal was made without considering the impact it would have on Arkansas farmers and ranchers.


"They should really consider the costs to all the stakeholders and all those involved and weigh those against what we are trying to accomplish," he said.


After the hearing, Veach told reporters that the impact of the designation could be devastating to Arkansas — potentially shuttering important irrigation projects like the Bayou Meto.


Crawford said after the hearing that he hopes the House will take up his bill before the end of the year but acknowledged that time is slipping by. Regardless, he said, the legislation and hearing will prompt Fish & Wildlife to take a closer look at the economic hit that Arkansas could experience and narrow its proposal.


Veach was among several witnesses who appeared before the House Resources Committee on Tuesday to testify on the Endangered Species Act. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., chairman of the committee, said the bills being considered would help improve the ESA.


"Clearly, ESA as written and implemented can be improved upon to ensure that this important law is working in the best interest of species and people and I expect that a discussion on sound legislative updates and improvements will continue well beyond this Congress," he said.


Rep. David Lowenthal, D-Calif., a committee member, criticized the Republican effort, saying it is designed to weaken protections for the most fragile species on the planet.


"These six different bills — none will help save a unique species from being wiped off the face of the earth. I’m disappointed but not surprised," Lowenthal said.


Crawford said his bill would requiring a comprehensive economic analysis would bring "a much needed level of reform that will provide more transparency to the general public and better inform them as to what the actions of a federal agency will have on their community or their private property."