The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is now 40 years old and even though it has saved some very threatened species, there is a dark side to ESA that some no nothing about.
The ESA was first signed by former President Nixon and at first glance it appears to be a very successful. It has been responsible for saving many species by pulling them back from the edge of extinction. Species like the gray wolf, bald eagle and the peregrine falcon just to name a few of the higher profiled specied.
The success of the Endangered Species act also has been credited with saving the black-footed ferret. The species was thought to already been extinct until a very small population was discovered in 1979 in the state of Wyoming. Now they are flourishing in populations once again.
Helping the black-footed ferret has been the director of Davee Center for Epidemiology and Endocrinology, Rachel Santymire. Santymire has been monitoring the ferrets for the Lincoln Park Zoo at the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Wyoming. She says that 200 ferrets are born in captivity every year and then released into their natural habitat at a total of 20 sites spanning across eight states, Mexico, and Canada. Santymire attributes this success with what the ESA has done to protect the natural ferret habitat.
The director of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Dan Ashe, also thinks that the ESA is doing exactly as it is supposed to do. Ashe also noted that scientists have now learned lessons from the past about how devastating the effect of human beings can be on populations of certain species. He then mentioned the disappearance of passenger pigeons that once numbered in the millions.
Ashe reminded everyone that even though the ESA has been successful, there was still more that people can do to help preservation efforts. Buying Save Vanishing Species stamps from the post office, sees those funds going into the endangered species conservation fund.
The Illinois Endangered Species Protection Board’s, Jim Robinett, has also been involved with the Shedd Aquarium for the last 36 years. Robinett hopes that more people will visit zoos and aquariums in hopes they receive a deeper awareness of endangered and threatened species, and how important protecting their natural habitats are. He thinks that the natural world is what sustains people and the ESA is critical to maintaining their natural states.
There is no denying that the Endangered Species Act has had many successes. However, there is a darker side to the ESA. The ESA was put in place to conserve species in their natural habitat, but the actual recovery rate of the approximately 2,100 endangered species that were first listed in 1973, is only less than 2 percent.
The law has actually been known to endanger the economies of many communities and has even created a cottage industry of litigation that benefits environmental activist groups more than it benefits the environment.
The ESA’s effectiveness and degradation began during the Carter administration in the late 70’s. Officials back then blurred the lines between those species that were listed as “on the verge of disappearing” and species that were only “threatened.” Threatened species are the class of animals that are in trouble but do not currently face any extinction.
This blurred distinction in the ESA has had some bad effects on property owners and the economies of areas like Cedar City in Utah’s southwest. The Utah prairie dog was listed in the ESA in 1973. Today the large rodents in the region number around 40,000 and are still listed as an endangered species. The ESA has prevented the residents from controlling or even relocating any of these animals.
The Cedar City region now has to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair damage to airports and property. Even though the damage to the airport may run the risk of causing the loss of human life, the rodent runs rampant digging up runways and taxiways while residents sit back with their hands tied unable to do anything about it.
Property owners that have purchased land with a purpose of developing have had their investments crumble when the rodents moved in. Shooting a single Utah prairie dog could be met with a $10,000 fine and five years in a federal prison.
Similar local problems have been created with the dusky gopher frog in Louisiana. The species thrives just fine in numbers in Mississippi, but the ESA has strapped Louisiana land owners from any productive development of their own property. This has created much economic hardship for owners and residents in Louisiana even though the frog has not been seen in their area for nearly 50 years.
The Endangered Species Act has also allowed many secret settlements to occur behind closed legal doors. Environmental group have sued the federal government under the ESA, claiming that they are not satisfying the government’s regulatory obligations. Settlements are then agreed upon behind closed doors, hidden from public view and without any opportunity for arguments to be voiced. Different perspectives on a solution often do not get an opportunity to be presented and explored. Proof or data is sometimes presented at these closed door sessions that has even been taken from out-dated and unrelated past studies too, with no opportunity for the public or other professionals to scrutinize these studies.
As much good that the Endangered Species Act has done to save endangered species over these last 40 years, its darker side remains to undermine the human rights of U.S. citizens and others across the world.
By Brent Matsalla