The National Association of Home Builders has a lot of problems with the way the Endangered Species Act is administered, seeing it as the source of costly battles that reduce housing affordability.

And it also has problems with restrictions on timber harvesting on public lands, which it says have driven up lumber prices, thus making home building more costly.

In the case of endangered species, it says, activists have been using the law to prevent growth rather than to promote biodiversity.

Often, the builders group says, applications to list species as endangered are not made until development plans are announced. And the scientific case for such applications is often faulty, it complains.

California's giant garter snake is a case in point. The association says an application to list the snake as endangered was filed after Winncrest Homes announced plans for a master-planned community in the fast-growing Sacramento area - a potential bonanza for lenders.

A landowners association spent $1 million fighting the application. It funded a highly detailed study that found that the snake's population was rising and its range was not limited to the Sacramento area. But it lost its plea and had to spend another $1 million to develop a habitat conservation plan.

The Sacramento fight is one of a handful of case histories the association presents in a booklet it is distributing to further its cause. Others include stories of the Florida scrub jay in Brevard County and the golden-cheeked warbler in Texas.

Regarding timber harvesting, the association says government restrictions, which include protection for the California spotted owl, along with barriers on imports from Canada and strong housing demand, have pushed up the price of building a typical home this year by nearly $2,000.

The group says the addition of $1,845 to the price of an average home knocks more than 26,000 households out of the homebuying market.

To be sure, environmentalists and other activists would put a different spin on the case histories. But it seems clear that mortgage lenders have a fairly direct stake in issues such as protection of the scrub jay, giant garter snake, golden-cheeked warbler, and spotted owl.

The home builders are suggesting a number of reforms, including longer notice of habitat preservation efforts, a focus on truly endangered species, and the use of scientific criteria to determine listings of endangerment.

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