Diane Brower: Our endangered friends
July 31, 2017
In 1973, Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act into law. Earlier that year, the ESA had passed the Senate, unanimously, and the House of Representatives, 390 to 12. The bipartisan support that marked the ESA's birth has since vanished, and Congress has morphed from one that counted conservation as a national priority to one that is increasingly hostile to the ESA. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, there are currently no fewer than 28 Senate bills and 230 House bills that have been introduced and would weaken the ESA.
One measure presented would require congressional approval every 5 years for a species to remain listed under the act and would allow states to take over management of species that are only found within their boundaries. That would affect more than 1,100 listed species in the U.S. Another proposed bill would keep the federal government from stepping in if the states fail to protect rare plants and animals and end the ability of regular citizens to file petitions seeking ESA protections for species.
Yet another bill would remove the requirement that the "best available science" be used when considering listing species and remove requirements for ESA reviews of oil and gas projects. Taken together, all these efforts to undermine the ESA represent an assault on one of the strongest conservation laws ever enacted.
In addition to this constant assault of legislation, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the primary agency responsible for administering the ESA, is suffering from chronic budget shortfalls that are preventing it from considering petitions to list new species. Of the 1,653 U.S. species currently listed under the act, nearly 30 percent lack recovery plans.
A study published last year in the Journal of Biological Conservation found that it takes, on average, more than 12 years to list a species. Currently, the Fish and Wildlife Service faces a backlog of more than 500 petitions. Lost in this debate is the fact that the act is about much more than snail darters and spotted owls. It is about the ecological health of entire ecosystems, which we depend upon for our own lives.
At one time the sea otter was hunted almost to extintion. They eat sea urchins. which feed on the kelp beds that provide habitat for the fish we eat. With sea otters gone, the sea urchins ate all the kelp beds, and the fish disappeared, along with our commercial and recreaional fishing. The ESA enabled the sea otters to return, hence, the fish and our commercial and recreaional fishing.
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In 1973, ESA was beyond partisanship, but in 2017, the question of whether we humans have a responsibility to try to save species is teetering on the brink of extinction. Let your representatives know that biodiversity, the health of ecosystems and the conservation of species is still a priority for United States and its citizens.
Call Sen. Cory Gardner at 202-224-5941, Sen. Michael Bennet at 202-224-5852 and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton at 202-225-4671.