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Tracy Press
After 32 years, what's endangered?


Published May 21, 2005, in the Tracy Press

Wouldn't you think after 32 years your house might need new tiles on the roof, a fresh coat of paint inside and out, new carpeting or a remodeled bathroom?

The nation's Endangered Species Act is that same age, but reactionary environmental groups go ballistic every time a politician suggests their holy grail of protectionism for plants and creatures should be updated as an efficient 21st century policy.

Back in 1973, President Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act after Congress had acted on the threat of the extinction of one of America 's wildlife symbols, the bald eagle. Thirty-two years later, the proud bird is back in large numbers. Don't give the Endangered Species Act all the credit; scientists believe most of it should go to the federal ban on the pesticide DDT.

Between then and now, we have learned a lot about our environment — it's precious and must be preserved. But at all costs?

The advances in preservation from the Endangered Species Act are difficult to determine, however. Is the act a success even if there has been a recovery of only 10 species out of nearly 1,800 listed as endangered or threatened, especially since 35 other listed species have become extinct in the meantime?

Protectors of the act, like Bart Semcer of the Sierra Club, asks for patience because “it would take some time to get these species to the point where they can recover. They're not going to recover overnight.”

After 11,688 nights, there is evidence about the Endangered Species Act's failure. It's the astronomical administrative costs, says a study by the House Resources Committee that is a prelude to new reform legislation by committee Chairman Richard Pombo, R-Tracy. It's due out in a couple of weeks.

The Fish and Wildlife Service recognizes that listed species that do not actually merit listing can divert scarce conservation dollars from truly endangered species, the study concludes. The cost of the recovery plan of the 15 different species of the fairy shrimp, a tiny freshwater crustacean found in vernal pools in California and Oregon, is estimated to be $1.3 billion during the next 20 years, or $115 million annually.

Since these numbers have too many zeroes for many of us to fully comprehend, here's a better perspective on the government costs. Just printing the critical habitat designation of the California tiger salamander costs $38,000, or the salary of a veteran schoolteacher.

These figures don't even include the legal fees. The Fish and Wildlife Service, the study notes, has 40 court orders resulting from earlier endangered species lawsuits and faces 36 additional notices of intent-to-sue notices covering 104 species

No wonder Rep. Pombo can charge that “the (act) has not achieved its original intent of recovering species.”

But the act has paid the salaries of a heap of bureaucrats, lawyers and environmentalists for the past 32 years.





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