When the En­dan­gered Species Act ar­rived, species re­vived

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - BALANCED VIEWS -

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.

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