Newly re-elected Republican Congressman Jim Hansen predicted Thursday night that the federal Endangered Species Act will be modified during the next congressional session.

The act, he said, was originally meant to protect significant species, but has gotten out of hand and damaged certain economies as smaller, more obscure species have been given protected status."The economy comes first," Hansen said. "Anything we feel strongly about (i.e., the grizzly bear), we can preserve."

Hansen made his comments at an after-dinner discussion at the invitation-only Governor's Forum on Natural Resources, a first-time effort to bring all sides of the public-lands multiple-use vs. wilderness-designation issue together for a two-day conference.

But in the back of the room, speaking sotto voce, David C. O'Neal, assistant secretary of the Interior, said the Endangered Species Act is safe.

"Congress won't touch it," O'Neal said.

Later, O'Neal said Hansen was correct when he said there was some dissatisfaction with recent interpretations of the Endangered Species Act and agreed that the act needs clarification.

But though he fully expects some attempts to change the law, "I don't think there will be a change to the Endangered Species Act," he said.

The furor over the spotted owl and the timber industry is an example of an issue that has frustrated Congress, O'Neal said. No one has said a species should die, nor do they want to see the timber industry gutted, he said.

"There is a frustration because we can't wave a magic wand and save them," he said. "But I don't think that frustration will lead to changes. I think it will lead to education."