Endangering the Endangered Species Act



By Sharon St Joan


In a May 6, 2015 article on the website of the Union of Concerned Scientists, “Your Handy Guide to Attacks on How the Endangered Species Act Uses Science,” Michael Halpern outlines major attacks being launched against the Endangered Species Act. He highlights congressional efforts to weaken and render the Act ineffective. The comments below are in response to, but not all are part of, the original article.


On May 7, the U.S. Senate will consider eight bills that would undermine the Endangered Species Act.


Putting blocks in the way of listing species


Some of these new bills being proposed would require economic considerations to be taken into account when determining which species deserve protection and would mandate an economic review before a species can be listed as endangered.


First of all, this would greatly slow down the process, requiring new, unfunded studies to take place. Secondly, the concept of listing species with reference to whether or not their existence is economically beneficial to humans undermines the whole concept of protecting endangered species. Generally, species become endangered because they have come into conflict with human greed and “progress.” People have found it economically beneficial to take away the habitats of these species and use the land to further their economic gain.




A butterfly, a wildflower, or even a cougar or a bear is not going to be able to demonstrate that their living free in the wild is economically beneficial to humans. Indeed, that is not the point. The point of the ESA is that nature and all natural species have an intrinsic right to exist and to lead their lives, free from harassment by humans, in a natural state, in their native habitat.


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service already has quite a large backlog of candidate species for protection under the ESA. They are way behind and adding further layers of burocracy will not speed up the process. These are species that need and deserve protection now.


Making listing species cumbersome


21st Century Endangered Species Transparency Act, another of these bills, would require the release of huge quantities of raw data. The intent of this bill seems to be to make the process as cumbersome as possible.


Another bill would require the senate to regard all data submitted as scientifically relevant, regardless of the source or the lack of a peer review.




Nonsensical “Common Sense” about critical habitat


As it stands, the ESA requires the government to determine the critical habitat for a species being listed, the habitat that is needed for the survival and continued reproduction of the species. In other words, this is the habitat that the species must have to keep from going extinct.


Something called the “Common Sense Bill” would require the Secretary of the Interior to take into account the economic impact of designating a site as “critical habitat.” There’s nothing “common sense” about this, because it means, for example, that if I were to have a plan to build an oil well on the sensitive breeding grounds of the sage grouse, then my economic interests would have to be considered. This, essentially, takes away all protection for natural species. If endangered species could compete with human economic interests, they would never have become endangered in the first place.


Species some people don’t like


There are also, currently in Congress, specific attacks on the protection of certain species. Three bills would remove the gray wolf from the ESA. Actually, gray wolves are much loved by large numbers of people, but that’s neither here nor there. It’s not a popularity contest, and all natural species deserve protection, whether we find them “cute and cuddly” or not. All are essential to the eco-system. One bill would remove protection for the northern long-eared bat, and another would diminish protection for the sage grouse.


Another bill called the Native Species Protection Act would ban protection for any species that is found in only one state. Now, one might think that a species that is found in only one state might be deserving of extra protection, and extra care and attention to preserve its habitat, but, no, that appears not to be the case. If this bill is passed, such a species could not be listed under the ESA.




The need to speak up


Sadly, this is not a straight-forward political issue. If it were, the situation might be simpler, but many of those one might expect to be allies of nature and the natural world are quiet, absent, or wavering. For example, when testifying before the House National Resources Committee, the USFWS was remarkably lukewarm about the whole idea of preserving critical habitat.


A March 4, 2015 press release, by the Center for Biological Diversity reports on a poll showing that 67% of the American public want the Endangered Species Act either strengthened or left alone. This is a huge majority, but it will be meaningless if the only people raising their voice are those with oil, gas, logging, development, and other economic interests.




We need to speak up and act on behalf of the world of nature; otherwise, nature will be lost, and we will all be lost with it. Adding your voice on behalf of wildlife by writing to your congressional representative, your local newspaper, by posting a comment on Facebook, or in any way you can, will be a good thing to do.


It doesn’t have to be complicated, and you don’t need to know the names of all the bills being proposed, just call for the Endangered Species Act to be left alone or strengthened.


If you would like to stay in touch with this and other wildlife issues, look to the column on the right to follow this blog.


To view the article by Michael Halpern, on the Union of Concerned Scientists website, “Your Handy Guide to Attacks on How the Endangered Species Act Uses Science,” click here.


To view the Center for Biological Diversity’s press release on the poll about support of the Endangered Species Act, click here.




Top photo: Retron / Wikimedia Commons / This work has been released into the public domain by its author, Retron at the wikipedia project. This applies worldwide. / Dakota, a grey wolf at the UK Wolf Conservation Trust, howling on top of a snowy hill.


Second photo: Traveler100 / Wikimedia Commons / This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. / Grizzly bear mother with two cubs.


Third photo: Forest & Kim Starr / Wikimedia Commons / This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license. / Hidden-petal Indian mallow.


Fourth photo: Sasata / Wikimedia Commons / This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. / Whooping Crane





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