Threat to the Endangered Species Act?

Posted by ardeidae on May 19, 2005

The Critical Habitat Enhancement Act of 2005 is a proposed bill by Democratic Rep. Dennis Cardoza of California that seeks to amend the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Environmentalists are concerned that the new revisions are going to severely weaken the protection of habitat. Stop Extinction has a Fact Sheet that summarizes the issue at hand.

Last month, The Portland Press Herald had an excellent editorial that detailed the impact of the proposed changes.

The Endangered Species Act likely can be made better, but an amendment that weakens habitat protection won’t be an improvement. If the places where endangered creatures reside, migrate and reproduce aren’t protected, the effect of the law will be minimal. Such protection becomes more critical as time goes on and more habitat is lost to construction each day.

It goes on to list the concerns environmental organizations have with the proposed changes:

Environmental organizations are concerned that Cardoza’s revived proposal would render habitat protection negligible.

They’re concerned particularly about a language change that would make it easier for developers to avoid having their property subject to a critical habitat designation.

Cardoza’s bill also would add more weight to economic considerations and allow the substitution of other programs that usually provide less protection than the critical habitat designations.

The bill also would weaken protection for so-called “unoccupied” habitat. A habitat that’s not currently occupied by the species in question can still be protected because the species uses it for migration or reproduction.

On Tuesday, ten world-renowned biologists wrote a letter(PDF) to the Senate urging them to strengthen the Endangered Species Act. They were very compelling. Some of the points made:

  • Currently there is little doubt left in the minds of professional biologists that Earth is faced with a mounting loss of species that equals or exceeds any mass extinction in the geological record. Human activities have brought the Earth to the brink of this crisis. Many biologists consider that coming decades will see the loss of large numbers of species; these extinctions will alter not only biological diversity but also the evolutionary processes by which diversity is generated and maintained. Extinction is now proceeding one thousand times faster than the planet’s historic rate.
  • In the United States, there have been more extinctions of birds than of any other group of vertebrates - 2.3% of our endemic bird species are gone forever. Worldwide, the situation is even worse. Because of the incredible density of species in tropical regions that are facing rapid deforestation, we may be losing species at a rate of 30,000 per year, or an overwhelming three per hour.
  • Habitat destruction is widely recognized as the primary cause of species loss. In the United States, habitat loss threatens about 85% of imperiled species. Worldwide, the figure may be higher. Agriculture, logging, urban development, dredging, damming, mining and drilling are just a few of the activities that eliminate or significantly degrade habitats.

They conclude.

Fortunately, we have the wherewithal and the tools we need to address this crisis.  The most important of them is the Endangered Species Act. It is the alarm system our nation crafted to warn us when species are facing extinction. It is the measure by which we halt species’ decline and give species a fighting chance at recovery.  Viewing our looming extinction crisis as a crisis for humans as well as wildlife, the importance of the Endangered Species Act takes on even greater significance.  In the face of this crisis, we must strengthen the Act and broaden its protections, not weaken them.

If you’d like to show your opposition to Cardoza’s proposed amendments to the Endangered Species Act, be sure to check out the Defenders of Wildlife Save ESA website.

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