When the Endangered Species Act arrived, species revived
When humans arrived, species died.
Homo sapiens in our geologically recent dispersal out of Africa have left paths of destruction across the planet, the one place in the universe where we actually know life exists.
Now, the Trump administration wants to roll back the Endangered Species Act (ESA), one of the cornerstones for the protection of this living planet. But we seem little concerned through the ever-deafening din of the news cycle and our growing inattention to nature.
Solomon in Ecclesiastes wrote — the rabbis believe in his later years — “there is nothing new under the sun,” which has echoed for 3,000 years in the Western consciousness on the cyclicity of human existence. Now, there is “Something New Under the Sun,” as the current president of the American Historical Association, J.R. McNeill, titled one of his books. This book and works of thousands of scientists and other researchers showed that human destruction of nature, especially extinction, was indeed new, increasingly over the last century with the rise of the Anthropocene, Earth’s most recent and human-influenced epoch.
It is obvious now that this century has witnessed the unprecedented hemorrhaging of species and habitats. This means we lose all their resources — beauty, free goods and meaning — and deprive these of future generations. Indeed, we pass along our “something new under the sun” as a sullied and depauperate planet to an expanding humanity, who will not remember us kindly.
Species destruction has a deeper history, of course. The Earth’s deep time record shows us that the human-caused die-off is the fifth of the planet’s great extinction events, and the previous four were geological catastrophes like the meteorite that killed the dinosaurs.
Those catastrophes occurred on timeframes of 100 million years, while the current one is occurring over a few hundred years, though it has much deeper roots.
The first dominoes of species extinction fell in Australia more than 50,000 years ago, with the first boatloads of humans. This followed around the world repeatedly when humans arrived with our attendant diseases and killing technologies, such as spear points, fires and guns.
The extinction domino hit the Americas much later with early human colonizers and their technologies that altered food webs and habitats. Extinctions and killing sprees grew with greater technology, such as cheap weapons, and markets skewed to wild animal products such as lion pelts, tiger bones and bear bile.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) arose to try to stop the trade in animal parts — and the United States, as a signatory nation, developed the ESA as an enacting legislation to carry out its obligations with the treaty.
The ESA, CITES and science have done well to show us the large, attractive species that have perished, but not those less-cosmetic ones. But both are declining — ironically, some charismatic species like tigers because of their attraction as virile symbols for human health. The less charismatic species, such as soil microbes, gain little policy attention, though they have provided many of our antibiotics and carry out countless ecosystem functions like cleaning water and helping grow the plants that nourish us. These are the “dark matter” of biodiversity and life on Earth — like the dark matter of the cosmos, hidden from us but clearly there.
With the ESA and the barricade of other laws, agencies, and preserves, conservationists have been able to stave off declines and even bring back some species and their habitats. Although every law is imperfect, the ESA has been wildly successful, maintaining species that would have been extinct for decades, such as the California condor, the black-footed ferret and the whooping crane.
Simply put, when the Endangered Species Act arrived, species revived.
The removal or crippling of the ESA will dislodge a cornerstone of conservation. Conservation laws are like all laws: They require vigilance to maintain the win-win gains of species protection.
Please comment on the win-win protections of the ESA through the Interior and Commerce Departments; comments must be received by Monday.
As reported by the American-Statesman’s Chuck Lindell, Republican Pete Flores defeated Democrat Pete Gallego in Tuesday’s runoff election for Senate District 19, which stretches from San Antonio to the Big Bend region and the New Mexico border. At Flores’ campaign victory party in San Antonio, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick told supporters: “Seven weeks from tonight, I have a message for the Democrats that Pete Flores and his hard work delivered here. All this talk about a blue wave? Well, the tide is out.” Flores garnered 53 percent of the vote; with this election, Republicans now hold 21 of Texas Senate’s 31 seats heading into the November elections.
Cynthia Martín: Hey Dan Patrick, instead of your divisive words, how about letting all Texans know that regardless of political party, you will work for all Texans? It’s pretty clear why not.
Elliott Garofalo: Excellent. Now if we can just get the liberal Democrats out of Austin politics, we might be able to save this city.
Moki Gee: Democrats need to stop running has-beens and find new blood.
Charlie R. Marlatt: Well, then maybe we can get a better grade on education, health care for kids and people that have lost it . ... Fix our infrastructure. Go get our money back from Washington.
Helen Johnson: I’m so sad to hear this. Pete Gallego was a great Texas legislator. Dems, you gotta get to the voting booth.
Rick Alfaro: So much for the “Blue Wave.” Democrats need to stop looking at polls from the New York Times and return to centrist ideas.
Shawnee Krishna Brown: Every election matters.
Chip Schrader: All of you Beto (O’Rourke) voters: I appreciate that you’re going to vote, but (Ted) Cruz will win. Watch. In November, it might be a close win with urban areas, but (Texans) believe in the GOP.
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Pete Flores addresses the crowd after winning Tuesday’s runoff election for Senate District 19.