Don’t kill a species-sav­ing law

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION -

This ed­i­to­rial ap­peared in the Los An­ge­les Times:

Elec­tions have con­se­quences, as the say­ing goes, and here’s an­other one aris­ing from con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­cans tak­ing complete con­trol of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment: The En­dan­gered Species Act, which played a sig­nif­i­cant role in sav­ing the bald ea­gle and the Cal­i­for­nia con­dor from ex­tinc­tion, is now it­self en­dan­gered. Were Congress and Pres­i­dent Trump to ac­cede to the de­mands of anti-reg­u­la­tory zealots and gut the na­ture­pro­tect­ing act, it would be calami­tous for hun­dreds of plant and an­i­mal species, lo­cal ecosys­tems, and the com­plex in­ter­con­nec­tions that sus­tain the nat­u­ral world.

The usual ar­gu­ment against the act is roughly that it is not used to pro­tect species, but to sti­fle de­vel­op­ment. Ac­cord­ing to its de­trac­tors, only 47 of 1,652 species to re­ceive pro­tec­tion since the act was passed in 1973 have re­cov­ered enough to get pro­moted off the en­dan­gered species list.

What that ar­gu­ment misses, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Bi­o­log­i­cal Di­ver­sity, is that the act has helped keep nearly ev­ery species added to the list from fad­ing into ex­tinc­tion — only 30 species have dis­ap­peared af­ter be­ing placed on the list.

Some scientists ar­gue that adding species to the list ear­lier, be­fore they reach a cru­cial state, would add to that suc­cess.

But no. The de­trac­tors’ goal isn’t to nur­ture species to re­cov­ered sta­tus, but to make it eas­ier to de­velop wilder­ness ar­eas and en­croach on cru­cial habi­tats. Some Repub­li­cans want to turn fed­eral land over to state con­trol un­der the spu­ri­ous ar­gu­ment that states know best how to care for it. They’re re­ally try­ing to open public land for pri­vate ex­ploita­tion, the en­vi­ron­men­tal costs be damned.

The act does have its short­com­ings. Scientists now be­lieve there need to be more adap­tive so­lu­tions, such as public-pri­vate part­ner­ships to in­te­grate wildlife habi­tats with de­vel­op­ment, and more ef­fi­cient use of the act as the na­tion adapts to chang­ing habi­tats. That should be the road map for re­vis­ing the act, and con­ser­va­tion­ists from the left and right need to pres­sure Congress to en­sure pro-de­vel­op­ment forces don’t de­stroy the act un­der the guise of fix­ing it.

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