Protect the Endangered Species Act

September 26, 2005

Congress is considering a major overhaul of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that will shift scientific decisions to political appointees, harm the Fish and Wildlife Service’s ability to react to short-term threats to species, and jeopardize many critical habitats. Please join me in asking Congress to reject the Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act of 2005 (TESRA), which may come up for a vote as early as this week.

The ESA has a long and mixed history. It has been essential to the recovery of the bald eagle, but has not brought back to non-threatened levels the vast majority of species listed. Is this the fault of the Act, or of continued abuse of ecosystems by the American public, corporations, and government? I suspect the latter. Further, the Act has helped to keep all but 9 listed species from going extinct; and yet it has been a cause of great strife between the public and private sectors, between environmentalists and landowners.

In opening committee debate on TESRA last week, Rep. Richard W. Pombo said, "The ESA must be updated to incorporate 30 years of lessons learned. It must be modernized for the 21st century to provide flexibility for innovation to achieve results. We must change the Act's chief unintended consequences of conflict and litigation into real cooperative conservation."

No doubt there is some truth to this. But this Act is not a positive way forward. The two most striking features in my mind are a shift to the Department of the Interior in determining the “best science” with regard to species (away from the scientific community) and forcing the Fish and Wildlife Service to issue individual policies for protecting listed species instead of their current blanket policy of no harm without explicit exception. Excellent further analysis can found via Earth Justice, who have also created an interesting (if demagogic) website called Save the Act, which includes many success stories.

This Administration has made a habit of making scientific decisions on the basis of political ideology. I do not trust this Interior Department to make sound, objective decisions on what is the "best science" in respect to species threats, or any other issue. Even if the rest of the Act were sound, I would urge Congress to reject it on this ground alone.

Please join me in supporting strong science and strong policies for the protection of threatened and endangered species. The Union of Concerned Scientists provides an excellent form letter for contacting your Congressperson.

1 Comment

Alternatively, see World Wildlife Federation's letter writing campaign.