It has be­come clear to en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists that the En­dan­gered Species Act is fail­ing in its fun­da­men­tal job: re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing species near the brink of ex­tinc­tion

Newsweek - - News - BY ERIK VANCE @erik­vance

The En­dan­gered Species Act Needs an Over­haul—fast

the guam broad­bill, a small, iri­des­cent black fly­catcher with a brown chest and a fluffy head, once flour­ished in the se­cluded lime­stone ravines on the Pa­cific is­land of Guam, a ter­ri­tory that be­longs to the United States. By 1973, de­vel­op­ment had de­stroyed two-thirds of its habi­tat and in­tro­duced a snake that preyed on the bird’s young.

That same year, Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon signed the En­dan­gered Species Act (ESA) into law. The act, which sets re­stric­tions on the de­struc­tion of spe­cific an­i­mal species and their habi­tat, seemed pur­pose-built for Guam’s broad­bill. But con­ser­va­tion rarely moves at the speed of de­struc­tion. It took Guam’s gover­nor six years to pe­ti­tion to have the bird pro­tected. Stud­ies took an­other five. By the time the broad­bill made the en­dan­gered species list, in the sum­mer of 1984, it was nearly gone—the last sight­ing oc­curred a few weeks later, on a golf course.

The ESA is widely cred­ited with pre­vent­ing the ex­tinc­tion of 99 per­cent of the species placed on its pro­tected list. But as the plight of the poor broad­bill sug­gests, this num­ber doesn’t tell the whole story. More than half of the species the act pur­port­edly pro­tects are now in trou­ble. Be­tween 1990 and 2010, just 8 per­cent of species im­proved their well-be­ing, while 52 per­cent de­clined. A mas­sive back­log of an­i­mals—many of them, like the broad­bill, fac­ing loss of habi­tat or as­saults from in­va­sive species—are also wait­ing to get on the list, but their cases are mired in the courts or red tape.

It’s be­come in­creas­ingly clear that the act’s one­species-at-a-time method of con­ser­va­tion is too slow and cum­ber­some to deal with rel­a­tively re­cent threats like cli­mate change and in­va­sive species, which can throw en­tire ecosys­tems into tur­moil. And even though the act is hugely pop­u­lar—its fa­vor­able rat­ing

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