The Endangered Species Act protects plants and animals that are on the brink of extinction. The American Bald Eagle and the Timber Wolf are examples of animals that have recovered because of the Act. But, some conservative members of Congress think the Endangered Species Act goes too far. They say the law often stands in the way of economic progress and private property rights. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush has this story:
The Endangered Species Act protects plants and animals that are on the brink
of extinction. The American Bald eagle and the Timber wolf are examples of
animals that have recovered because of the Act. But some conservative
members of Congress think the Endangered Species Act goes too far. They say
the law often stands in the way of economic progress and private property
rights. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush has this story:
(Sound of shoreline and low peeps of the plover)
The piping plover is a tiny little bird. It’s not much bigger than a parakeet. This plover scurries around on the beach. It’s making a distress call and showing a broken wing display because it’s
nervous about a group of people building a cage around its nest.
(Sound of metal cage rattling)
But the people are here to help; they’re trying to protect its nest. Plovers build their nests out of little round stones right on the beach. Amanda Brushaber is a biological technician with the National Park Service. She’s leading a group of volunteers who are working to save this rare little bird.
“Right now, we’re exclosing the nests that have eggs in them. The
exclosures keep the predators out, and keep the birds of prey out, so that
the eggs have a chance of making it to hatch, which takes 28 days.”
These birds are getting help because they were put on the Endangered Species
List back in 1986. At one point there were only eleven breeding pairs left in the Great Lakes
region. The birds like wide sandy beaches that have strips of stones and cobble.
But these shorelines have been under a lot of development pressure. And with more buildings and more people on the beaches, the bird’s had a tough time surviving.
The piping plover is just one of the more than 1,800 plants and animals that
are protected by the Endangered Species Act. The Act has been around for more than thirty years. It’s considered the strongest law in the world in protecting endangered
plants and animals, and for the most part, it’s remained unchanged since it was first passed.
But some members of Congress think the Endangered Species Act goes too far. They say enforcement of the Act is often heavy handed to the point that it’s an abuse of federal power.
California Congressman Richard Pombo chairs the House Committee on
Resources. He’s a vocal critic of the Act. Brian Kennedy is a spokesperson for Congressman Pombo and his Committee. He says the Congressman’s constituents are afraid of finding an endangered
species on their land because it could limit how they use their land.
“In other words, if the federal government finds an endangered species on a
fraction of an individual’s private property, he loses the use of that
property and then when that individual goes to sell it, it is worth less
than it would be otherwise.”
Private property advocates say they want owners compensated for this loss. Otherwise they say their rights to their land are being taken away. They refer to this loss as a ‘taking.’ But people who enforce the Act say there’s a lot of misunderstanding about
what it means.
Jack Dingledine is a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He says they work closely with landowners to make sure a development won’t harm a protected species.
“If a landowner finds an endangered species on their property, they do have
an obligation not to harm the species when it’s there. It doesn’t mean that
we’re going to close beaches, and we don’t seize people’s property, but we
would ask that they consider any actions that might harm the species.”
Harming a species includes damaging the place where it lives – even if that
habitat is on privately owned land. And this is what makes private property advocates bristle. They see this as an infringement on their rights to do whatever they want
with their land.
Several bills are being developed that would change the way the Act is
implemented. The sponsors of these bills say the changes they want to make to the
Endangered Species Act will be an improvement.
But supporters of the Act say these bills do nothing to improve the law. Kieran Suckling is with the Center for Biological Diversity. He says these critics of the Endangered Species Act are hiding their true
“Down the line, these are all industry sponsored bills that have no purpose
other than to get rid of environmental protection to benefit industry,
period. They can spin it any way they want, but at the end of the day, that’s
what their bill says.”
Supporters of the Endangered Species Act are troubled by the way Congress
has changed its tune. When the Act was first passed 32 years ago, Congress voted for it by a 355
to 4 margin. The law was extremely popular because there was a sense of urgency about
protecting endangered plants and animals.
Many environmentalists are concerned that if the Endangered Species Act is
weakened now, we’ll see more wildlife wiped out of existence.
For the GLRC, I’m Mark Brush.