The Endangered Species Act is ineffective in preventing the extinction of…
The Endangered Species Act is ineffective in preventing the extinction of species.
1973: Congress enacts ESA in attempt to provide conservation of ecosystems necessary for endangered/threatened species.
1982: Congress amended ESA to allow state/local governments, private parties, corporations to take a species if said species is "incidental to" otherwise lawful activities (land development,extraction of resources)
When the Clinton Administration began: 14 HCPs (Habitat conservation plans – prepared plans prepared by applicants trying to gain an “incidental take” permit) authorized by FWS
By the end of 1996: More than 320 HPCs approved/up for consideration.
At its introduction, people viewed the HPC procedure as a win-win situation.
HPC has frequently caused more destruction than protection of endangered species.
Based on the theory (unproven) that species on the brink of extinction can survive in light of rather large losses of habitat.
HPC for coastal California gnatcatcher: permits destruction of more than 60% of remaining habitat for the species, which is only 10% of its original habitat.
Very few HPCs require an applicant to restore the degraded land.
Most call for the annexation of an equal or greater amount of existing habitat in order to compensate for the destroyed habitat.
Over its 40 years, the ESA has been noted as the strongest conservation law in the United States.
Endangered species have brought about concern in the U.S. since the 1800s, when the bison came close within extinction due to overhunting.
Congress first dipped its toe into the waters of wildlife regulation in 1900 with the Lacey Act after noticing a trend with commercial agencies killing significant numbers of species and then transporting them to another state in order to avoid persecution.
1966: Congress passes the Endangered Species Preservation Act (ESPA).
Prevent the extinction of species.
Provides for conservation of species through programs that protect, recover, prevent species from extinction.
Ultimate goal is to remove species from the lists when they’re fully recovered (their survival no longer depends on ESA protections).
Prohibits anyone from taking (killing,harming) a listed species.
Rampant development has pressured the government to diminish the power of the ESA in order to make room for economic growth.
Susceptible to pressure from both industry and politics.
Industries often hire their own highly paid consultants to create conservation plans.
Although the ESA is undoubtedly valuable, political interests push for development growth to overcome concerns regarding the loss of species.
The ESA is also chronically underfunded.
One of the main reasons for controversy surrounding the ESA is the fact that it doesn’t protect only the most well-loved of species.
Encompasses everything from a fish called the shortnose sucker to a plant called Bradshaw’s desert-parsley.
“Perhaps the most famous actor in the obscure category was the snail darter, a finger-sized fish that nearly prevented construction of the Tellico Dam on the Little Tennessee River in 1977.”
ESA requires that FWS and NOAA use “best scientific data available” to determine whether or not to list a species as endangered or threatened, when designating critical habitat, and determining whether or not agency action will place a species in danger.
Any person can petition to list a species. The government may also initiate the process.
Depending on the species, ESA delegates the FWS or NOAA to make decision.
NOAA Fisheries: marine species such as whales, turtles, anadromous fish species.
FWS: terrestrial species, freshwater fish species.
FWS and NOAA fisheries must determine whether or not a proposed species is truly a “species”.
ESA definition: term includes both “subspecies” and “distinct population segment”, as well as broader classification of “species”.
Decision of "endangered" vs. "threatened" based on:
Present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of species, habitat, range.
Overutilization of the species for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes.
Disease or predation.
The inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms.
Other natural or man-made factors affecting the species’ existence.
If one factor applies, species is justified as being listed.
Determination must be made "solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available."
“An “endangered species” is one endangered “throughout all or a significant portion of its range”.”
“A “threatened species” is a species likely to become endangered in the near future “throughout all or a significant portion of its range”.”
June 13, 2013: FWS proposed removing gray wolves from the ESA throughout lower 48 states.
After decades of having it on the list, FWS now says that the species' status should be studied instead at the subspecies level.
FWS says conservation efforts have been met: the wolf no longer fits definition of "threatened" or "endangered."
The reasoning behind this decision completely undermines the main goal of the ESA: to mitigate threats to the recovery of a species.
Reference large differences in numbers of species on the list each year compared to the species that are never taken off the list.
Most common criticism: Modest # of species delisted.
Since 2003, less than 30 out of more than 100 species have been removed from endangered or threatened list.
More than 1/2 were removed because they've gone extinct.
When status of a species improves, it is possible for it to be upgraded to a less critical “threatened” category.
Up to 1999, not a single recovered species. Seven of the 27 delisted species were due to extinction.
Service reports that nine were taken off the list because of “data errors.”
Meaning the species shouldn’t have been on the list in the first place.
Delisting is considered a viable possibility for 74% of the 1173 species listed under the ESA. 92% threatened, 69% of endangered species. FWS noted uncertainty for 257 species. Although delisting was goal, it may not be plausible due to rarity, threats, lack of data. 144 species could be considered as 'recovered' even though they would have smaller populations than they had before.
Designation of Critical Habitat
Critical habitat for a species must be determined within one year of being listed.
Using "Best scientific data available."
"Economic impact" may also be considered.
Includes geographical areas that are occupied by the species, as well as areas which are not occupied by species but are necessary for recovery.
Founded on "physical or biological features."
"Essential to conservation of the species and which may require special management considerations or protection."
Designation is not required at the time a species is listed if it is "not prudent" to do so, or if the identification of habitat may increase threat to species through vandalism, takings, and other human activity. Designation is not useful in this case. Also if habitat cannot be determined.
Critical habitat cannot be designated when:
There is a lack of sufficient information to determine impacts.
When biological needs are not known.
Since the act has the power to override growth or development projects if they pose a threat to a species, the environmental community has used the ESA as a means of gaining cost-free national land-use control and federal zoning.
The Wood Duck
Loss of nesting habitat and overhunting caused a rapid movement toward extinction for the duck.
Friends of the Wood Duck pleaded private landowners to let them build artificial next boxes for the birds.
Most landowners were glad to help out.
There was no downside to the plan; the landowners were not prevented from utilizing their land even if the ducks chose to use the boxes.
These plans worked because the presence of the habitat and species was not a liability for the owner of the land, which is a common theme with the ESA.
Private landowners aren’t afraid of having wildlife on their land. They’re afraid of federal regulations and agents on it.
“The only way Congress can make the Endangered Species Act work for both people and species - stop making stewardship a liability - is to replace the existing compulsory, regulatory act with a voluntary, non-regulatory, incentive-based act.”
Both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA (National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service) are needed to come up with and implement recovery plans.
“Recovery”: improvement in status of species up to the point at which it’s no longer needed to be listed.
To the "maximum extent possible," the agency has to give priority to those species which are most likely to benefit from a recovery plan. Specifically those threatened by development projects or other forms of economic activity.
Recovery plans need to include:
Description of site-specific management actions that are necessary to achieve conservation.
Objective, measurable criteria which, when met, would result in the removal of a species from the list.
Estimates of the required time and cost of measures needed to fulfill the ultimate goal.
Even though the ESA requires development of plans, they’re merely considered “guidance documents,” not “regulatory documents.”
ESA does not require the FWS or NOAA Fisheries to implement said plans.
State water laws may influence fish species recovery under the ESA.
Endangered fish species recovery seems to be following in the same footsteps as the Spotted Owl.
Recovery plans play an invaluable role in the accomplishment of the ESA’s ultimate goal: conservation of protected species, and ecosystems which they depend on.
Required by amendments added in 1988.
Play a crucial role in organizing efforts.
The absence of the requirement for “best scientific data” in recovery planning can cause inadequate recovery by prescribing an incorrect/insufficient plan,
The phrase “best scientific data possible” is used in order to ensure that the ESA doesn’t haphazardly implement plans based on speculation or surmise.
In practice, recovery plans are usually implemented in a one-size-fits-all approach.
Call it "comically vague."
In order to improve:
Place a greater emphasis on recovery phases and require adherence to stricter science demands.
Recovery plans should take a site-specific approach instead of protecting wide swatches of land with multiple habitats inside of them.
Despite efforts of the ESA, threatened and endangered species continue to decline.
For fiscal years 2005 and 2006, 8% of species were cited as improving. 34% were reported as declining.
Usually, it takes a considerable amount of time, resources, and luck to reverse extinction.
Occurs over decades or even centuries.
“A recovery plan sets out steps for a species’ recovery by identifying management actions that will promote its recovery.”
NOAA Fisheries describes recovery plans as “road maps to species recovery – it lays out where we need to go and how to best get there.”
Northern Spotted Owl
June 26th, 1990: USFWS lists species as threatened.
1992: Draft recovery plan cites loss of habitat, inadequate regualtory mechanisms as causes of decline.
The plan listed loss of critical habitat as the most significant threat - timber harvesting of old growth forests.
In response, Northwest Forest Plan dramatically reduces logging, sets aside 24 million acres of federal land as refuge.
Population continues to decline.
May 2008: FWS releases new recovery plan saying that , according to "best scientific data available," competition from the Barred Owl poses a significant threat to the Spotted Owl.
Today, the owl is "closer than ever to extinction."
The question to ask: Why did recovery efforts not change for 16 years if they weren't working?
16 years worth of protection lost because of misdiagnosis.
Presents alarming example of consequences that can result from ineffective efforts for recovery and provide starting points for analyzing problems within the ESA's recovery planning division
"The basic message of the Endangered Species Act is something everybody understands: extinction is forever," says Interior Secretary Babbitt. "Once a species and its habitat are lost, they can't be brought back. The Endangered Species Act gives us one last chance to ... save some important living part of America for the future."
Note that about 1/2 of animals species are making comebacks.
Argue that the rate of decline of listed species would be much greater without the laws protecting them from harm.
"In some cases the act has made recovery more difficult by entangling real conservation work in red tape and creating disincentives that discouraged participation." –Jim Streeter, policy director of the National Wilderness Institute, a private research organization in Washington D.C.
Some analysts claim those successful stories of the ESA are in fact the victories of other factors.
Banning of the pesticide DDT played a major role in turning around the decline of bald eagles.
Ike Sugg: "The ESA has failed to legitimately recover a single species. None of these species have benefitted from the ESA's punitive regulation of private property."
Say the ESA simply hasn't done its job.