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Endangered Species Act fails test of time

Published on: 10/05/05

After three decades, the Endangered Species Act has given us very little to cheer about.

Since its inception, nearly 1,300 species have been listed as threatened or endangered. Yet, not one species has recovered as a result of the act alone.

In fact, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, approximately 77 percent of listed species have only achieved less than 25 percent of their recovery objectives. More than half are classified as either "declining" or in "unknown" status.

Sadly, that is the history of the Endangered Species Act. Born of the best intentions, it has failed to live up to its promise, and species are more threatened today because of its serious limitations.

The cornerstone of the ESA is the "listing" of species and the designation of "critical habitat" habitat necessary for species to recover. These processes are ambiguous and open to arbitrary personal judgment, and they lack sound science or peer-reviewed research. These key elements of the act are responsible for the misclassification of species as endangered or threatened and the application of a one-size-fits-all solution.

Both Republican and Democratic administrations have stated that critical habitat designations have done little if anything to aid species recovery. Critical habitat is one of the most perverse shortcomings of the act. It has been interpreted to mean that once an animal is determined to be in danger, there is only one viable option to designate critical habitat and let nature take its course.

This hands-off approach fails to recognize the amazing strides in technology, biology and medicine that have marked the recovery of many other at-risk species. The law should encourage hands-on conservation and recovery efforts.

Another major unintended consequence of the ESA stems from the fact that it creates an adversarial relationship between government regulators and the property owners whose participation is crucial to the goal of saving endangered species: America's farmers, ranchers and private property owners.

Given the fact that 90 percent of endangered species have habitat on private land, we must provide incentives to private property owners to become willing participants in actually recovering species. If we are going to improve the ESA's dismal recovery rate, we must partner with private property owners.

The bipartisan bill I introduced with Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.) will update the Endangered Species Act by refocusing the law on species recovery and by turning conflict into cooperation. The Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act of 2005 passed the House of Representatives on Sept. 29.


U.S. Rep. Richard W. Pombo (R-Calif.) chairs the House Committee on Resources.


This column is solicited to provide another viewpoint to an AJC editorial published today. To respond to an AJC editorial, contact David Beasley at dbeasley@ajc.com or call 404-526-7371. Responses should be no longer than 600 words.




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