These creatures are not always pretty, but that is not really the point. Every living organism listed as endangered is in some stage of crisis. When it comes to endangered species deciding to save or not to save has important consequences.
Since the Endangered Species Act was passed into law in 1973 and signed by President Richard Nixon, the answer has been, at least partially, to save. The United States has made an effort to identify plant and animal species that are close to extinction and to rescue as many possible.
Rescuing an endangered species is both expensive and time-consuming. Just this week, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is announcing that the Oregon chub, a small speckled minnow, is ready to be removed from the endangered list making it the first fish to be recovered.
The recovery process has taken about 21 years and involved restoring some of the habitats that were lost to development. Now, a variety of other protected species have moved into those restored areas including certain turtles, frogs, and even salmon. The cost of the recovery was about $5.7 million or about $316,000 a year and most of the funding was federal.
While that may seem like a great deal of money, the cost for the chub was actually fairly modest. Just in 2012, state and federal agencies spent about $1.7 billion to rescue endangered species. Nearly $100 million has been spent since the mid 1990s to recover the gray wolf alone. When it comes to endangered species, deciding to save or not to save is often a matter of weighing costs.
When costs are being considered, the next question is: why is it important to save a critter such as the little brown bat? For one thing, this one little bat eats thousands of mosquitoes and other insects every single night. For that matter, the Oregon chub eats mosquito and other insect larvae. The investments in saving plants and animals provides benefits to humans that are sometimes unrecognized until the species is lost.
Now, legislators are looking at endangered species and deciding again to save or not to save. Last week, 13 Republican legislators released a report suggesting amendments to limit litigation and to give the states more authority over endangered species within their borders.
Washington State Rep. Doc Hastings, chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, said the biggest problem is that the program is not recovering species and more animals and plants are added to the list than removed from it.
Advocates for the program point out that while only about 2 percent of the protected species have been declared recovered, hundreds of others are now in some stage of recovery.
Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio, who is the ranking Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee, indicated that efforts to change the law at this time would be unsuccessful.
Given the enormous importance of this program and the enormous cost, both citizens and their elected officials should know why certain plants and animals should be protected. It is equally important to understand all of the costs both of losing a species and of saving it.
In the end, it is simply appropriate to periodically review the Endangered Species Act and that involves deciding again to save or not to save.
Editorial by Sharon Fawley