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Help Defend the Safety Net of Protections for Endangered Wildlife
Now is a perilous time for the Endangered Species Act. Many members of Congress seem to have forgotten why this law was enacted in 1973 and why it remains the nation’s most important wildlife protection law. Proposals to remove the safety net of protection for endangered species are flying around fast and furious.
Species Not Recovered in 15 Years? No More Protection Then
Last week Rep. Joe Baca (D-CA) introduced a bill (H.R. 1042) that would lift Endangered Species Act protections from virtually any endangered or threatened species that does not experience significant population increases within its first 15 years after listing.
Baca is upset that the Delhi Sands flower-loving fly, an endangered pollinator in his district, has not yet been declared recovered after 19 years on the Endangered Species Act list.
Rather than encouraging the constructive efforts underway in his district to strike a balance between developing real estate and protecting natural systems and the web of life, Baca would tip the balance entirely in favor of unfettered development.
Why the Delhi Sands Flower-Loving Fly Matters
I see several big problems with his thinking. First, although pollinators are not always charismatic, they are essential to our health and well-being. According to a recent Senate resolution put forward by Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), pollinators help to produce roughly one-third of the food consumed in the United States and help to reproduce at least 80 percent of flowering plants.
If we decide we cannot afford to protect the Delhi Sands flower-loving fly when it starts plummeting to extinction, what makes us believe that we will have the will to protect the numerous other endangered pollinators that help maintain our food supply and our flowering gardens?
Recovery Takes Time. Ask the Bald Eagle and Kirtland’s Warbler
Second, the idea of throwing in the towel for any species that doesn’t show immediate signs of recovery after listing flies in the face of common sense and experience.
Many treasured wildlife species have benefitted from Endangered Species Act protections, but only after one or two decades of getting protection and recovery efforts kick-started.
For example, the bald eagle, our nation’s symbol, did not see a resurgence in its numbers until at least 15 years after it received the protection of the Endangered Species Act. In Maine, for example, the number of eagles hovered around 30 to 50 for roughly two decades after listing, and then recovery efforts started bearing fruit and we now have more than 385 eagles gracing the skies there.
The number of Kirtland’s warbler males hovered around 200 for the first two decades after it was listed, then conservation efforts under the ESA finally paid off and now there are more than 1,700 across the bird’s range.
The Real Way to Deal With Concerns Of How Long It Takes to De-List Species
If members of Congress are truly concerned about the pace of endangered species recovery, there are plenty of ways to address this problem without resorting to the draconian step of pulling the plug and letting developers drive them to extinction. Many species are listed only after their numbers have plummeted to dangerously low levels. This delay in providing ESA protection makes recovery much more costly and difficult. Congress could immediately reduce the cost and difficulty of recovery by helping conserve wildlife while populations are relatively abundant.
Unfortunately, the House of Representatives recently passed a bill that would do just the opposite – it would drastically cut many of the programs designed to conserve wildlife species before they become endangered. This is a classic case of “penny wise and pound foolish” behavior – achieving small savings in the short term while setting us up for big costs over the long haul.