WASHINGTON (AP) _ The nation's largest group of professional foresters will propose changes in the Endangered Species Act Tuesday to help protect private property owners.

The organization of 18,000 will also propose an independent review of the scientific reasoning behind decisions of whether to list species as threatened or endangered.

But leaders of the Society of American Foresters said the initial decision on whether to protect a species should continue to be based on biological evidence rather than economic pain.

The foresters also said the government should do a better job of managing public forests for the good of entire ecosystems.

In remarks prepared for the group's annual convention in Richmond, Va., and released Monday, society president William Barton said the act is ''one of the most controversial environmental laws - maybe controversial laws, period - in our nation today.''

''The Society of American Foresters believes the act must be changed to protect both the people of the United States and the plants and animals in jeopardy,'' said Barton, who is from Savannah, Ga.

''The Endangered Species Act must take into account human and economic needs, in addition to biological ones,'' he said.

The organization proposed changes to ease the economic impact on landowners, including ''just compensation'' for those who ''cede control of their lands to society in the name of preserving threatened or endangered species.''

The group proposed establishing an independent peer group, the Select Biological Committee, to review all proposed listings. The panel would be made up of federal, state and private scientists.