The Viva Vine: vol #4, no #3: May/June 1995

Endangered Species Act: Endangered
By Kathleen Casey of The Sierra Club

Animals form an inalienable fragment of nature, and if we hasten the disappearance of even one species, we diminish our world and our place in it.
-- James Michener (novelist, Pulitzer Prize winner)
The Endangered Species Act (ESA)
--our most powerful safeguard against the complete pillage of U.S. wilderness areas is under attack by the new Congress. From funding cuts, to the dismantling of the Federal system and leaving authority up to individual states, the majority leaders are hacking away at the dying Act from every angle.

For developers, ranchers, oil drillers, miners, water-hungry municipalities, loggers, manufacturers and farmers who this Congress seems to really represent -- the Act is a major problem. The provisions of the Act make it difficult for these exploiters of the land to pollute, dam rivers, or tear down forests. Currently, legislators in Washington are devising creative ways to circumvent the safeguards the rest of us rely on for clean air, water, and natural beauty. Congress has already passed "non-funded mandates," which leaves the authority for decisions and financing that affect the wilderness to the already burdened states. Rarely, of course, do ecosystems conform to state boundaries, complicating any state efforts to protect wilderness even more.

If the new proposed policies become law, listing a species as endangered in order to prevent further damage to its habitat and develop a rescue plan would be so complicated that any particularly threatened animal would be extinct long before the paperwork is processed. Proposed as "takings," that compensate landowners for any significant loss to the value of their property as a result of evoking the ESA, would bankrupt any government forced to make such payments. We as taxpayers would in effect be paying polluters not to pollute.

Another brainstorm by those who want to weaken the Act is to have all applications for the listing of a species as endangered be "peer reviewed" by the community's industry leaders. Their motivation for acting to save species and their habitats is already low, but it would be diminished even more if cost/benefit analysis of a proposed application impacts negatively on an industry's bottom line. How could the value of a species such as a mollusk or prairie grass fit into any balance sheet?

Plain and simple, we will start seeing species disappear at an even more alarming rate. The loss of even a few species can foster a chain reaction which leads to an even more rapid extinction of other species. Ultimately perhaps, shouldn't the human race therefore be put on an endangered species list?

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