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9th Circuit ruling reaffirms species law

posted to KBC 8/14/04

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' recent ruling on the northern spotted owl seems to have as a general theme the right idea. Truly, the Endangered Species Act is meant to recover species, not just leave their survival hanging by a thread.

The court ruled on what it was asked to rule on, and didn't have to consider grave threats to the owl other than habitat loss. The protected species in many areas is becoming a cross breed as barred owls interbreed with spotted owls and compete for food and territory.

The ruling is likely to hold up logging in some areas in California, Oregon and Washington.







One of the great stumbling blocks in the perception of the Endangered Species Act is the fact that the only economic effect that is recognized is the initial negative one. But if it is implemented as it is meant to be, recovery of a species can mean a loosening of restrictions on land use and harvesting activities. Dragging out recovery of an endangered species only means the negative consequences go on longer than they must.

The Aleutian goose is one of the success stories of the act, rebounding from very low numbers to numbers large enough today to allow hunters to take them.

But the success stories of the act are few and far between when one considers the vast number of species listed for protection. Some environmental groups have pressed for species after species to be listed, only to fall on tough political times as they've had to watch property rights advocates rail against the basic tenant of the act -- opposition unlikely without a deluge of listings.

This puts an otherwise important law at great risk.

To the extent the 9th Circuit's ruling demands that the government uphold the letter of the law, it is good. Perhaps if Fish and Wildlife had been following the spirit of the law, the owl would be flourishing enough to remove it from the list. In this case, at least, it appears the spirit of the law is more important than the letter.


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