Published May 21, 2005, in the Tracy
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
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
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.