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Pros and Cons of the Endangered Species Act

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Studies
Wordcount: 2337 words Published: 18th May 2020

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 The Endangered Species act is designed to protect and recover species that are in danger of extinction and the ecosystems in which they depend on to survive. This act is administered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Commerce Department’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). The USFWS focuses on terrestrial and freshwater organisms while the NMFS focuses on marine mammals. Under the ESA, species may be listed as endangered or threatened. Endangered indicates a species is in danger of becoming extinct throughout all or most of its range. Threatened indicates a species is likely to become extinct in the near future. All species of plants and animals, with the exception of pest insects are eligible to be listed on the endangered or threatened list.

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 While the ESA is designed to protect and recover species with legislation, conflicts arise when laws designed to protect species which are vital components of our ecosystems with restrictions on use of resources such and timber, water, and rivers that are used for human consumption. (Buck, Corn, Alexander, Sheikh, Meltz 2012). The ESA protects the habitats and food sources of species that are on the endangered and threatened species list. The ESA is viewed as a driver for large scale ecosystem restoration. The ESA has provisions to protect species and their habitats. Scientists have pointed out that it is critical to protect endangered and threatened species habitat to preserve the species while industries have suggested the ESA is a way to control land use rather that species conservation (Whitney 2018). There is currently debate over whether the ESA has the right balance between progress and protection. Republicans think the act leans more towards conservationist’s efforts and restricts progress while democrats feel the act must stay in place to protect the ecosystem.

 In September 2018, Republicans introduced legislation that would either remove or lower protections for animals and plants listed as endangered or threatened (Green 2018).

 Republicans claim the decades-old law needs improvements that take into consideration the economic impacts of listing a species and endangered or threatened while Democrats say these proposals are an attack on the landmark act The House Natural Resources Committee advanced five ESA related bills. The intent of these bills was to remove all protections for the Gray Wolves in the continental United States; give priority to science submitted by state and local governments over the federal government when deciding if a species needs protection; and let the administration have more authority in prioritizing certain petitions for protection (Green 2018). This represents the most significant effort as a whole to rewrite the ESA in decades. The common theme of the bills is to give more power to states and municipalities, with the intent on letting local communities decide which species to protect and how to accomplish this goal. Critics of the ESA claim that species can easily be added, rarely get removed, and creates regulatory challenges for industries (Green 2018). In legislative hearings regarding revamping the ESA, House Natural Resource Committee Chairman Rob Bishop of Utah, said that more effort needs to be focused on recovery and the eventual delisting of species. Greg Sheehan, the FWS deputy director highlighted that when the ESA has done its job and a species is no longer at risk for extinction, it should be delisted. Opponents of this effort point out that the ESA has been attributed to saving 99 percent of the species on its list (Green 2018)

 . A discussion on the impact of the ESA can’t simply be measured in terms of the impact on the economy. The ESA was designed to protect species and their habitats from extinction. The foundation of why we need each species can be explained by the term biodiversity. Biodiversity is the variety of life on Earth, or its biological diversity. The number of species of microorganisms, plants, and animals, the huge variety of genes in these species, the different ecosystems on the planet such as deserts, rainforests, and coral reefs are all part of a biologically diverse Earth (Geographic 2010).

 Threats to the ESA has a direct correlation to impacting biodiversity. Threats to biodiversity is a concern for many reasons (Geographic 2010).

Biodiversity boosts the productivity of ecosystems. Each species has an important role to play in an ecosystem. It doesn’t matter how small, each is important. A larger number of plant species means a larger variety of crops (Global Issues), larger number of species ensures natural viability for all life forms, and healthy ecosystems can better withstand and recover from a variety of disasters.

 Biodiversity offers many natural features that benefit humans. This includes ecosystem services, biological resources, and social benefits. A healthy ecosystem with biodiversity provides natural benefits such as protection of water resources, soils formation and protection, nutrient storage and recycling, pollution breakdown and absorption, contributes to climate stability, maintenance of ecosystem, and recovery from unpredictable events (Global Issues). A healthy biodiversity has the ability to offer biological resources such as food, medicinal resources and pharmaceutical drugs, wood products, ornamental plants, breeding stocks, population’s reservoirs, future resources, diversity in genes, species, and ecosystems (Global Issues). The social benefits of a healthy biodiversity includes research, education, and monitoring, recreation and tourism, and cultural values. The cost of replacing these benefits is extremely expensive (Global Issues).

 The concept of species depending on other species is also a consideration when maintaining a healthy biodiversity. Each species depends on the services provided by other species to survive (Global Issues). The cooperation between species is referred to as a balanced ecosystem. An example of how all species of animals and organisms involved in a simple field used in agriculture. Vandana Shiva, Stolen Harvest (South End Press, 2000), pp 61-62: Crop byproducts are used to feed cattle. Cattle waste feeds the soil that nourishes the crops. Crops yield straw which provides organic matter and fodder. Crops are therefore food for humans and animals. This illustrates how all elements of an ecosystem support each other.

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 At the crux of the debate on the ESA is the question, is the ESA protecting and restoring species. A major goal of the ESA is the recovery of species to the point in which ESA protection is no longer needed for the species. The answer to these questions depends on what is measured (Buck, Corn, Alexander, Sheikh, Meltz 2012). Since the ESA was enacted, 54 U.S. and foreign species or distinct population segments have been delisted Conflicting Values and Difficult Choices P. 8). Of these 54 species or distinct populations, the reasons cited by the FWS for delisting include (1) recovery (26 species); (2) extinction (10 species, some may have been extinct when listed), (3) original data in error (18 species) (Buck, Corn, Alexander, Sheikh, Meltz 2012). An argument against the effectiveness of the ESA is if it’s purpose is to protect and restore species, when it comes to extremely rare species, is hard to prove if the species is extremely rare or already extinct (Buck, Corn, Alexander, Sheikh, Meltz 2012). Critics also say that in 39 years, only 26 species have been delisted due to recovery and 10 species have been delisted due to extinction (Buck, Corn, Alexander, Sheikh, Meltz 2012). While the number of species that have been delisted may not be indicative of the effectiveness of the ESA, maybe the number of species that have been stabilized is. 35 species have been reclassified (downgraded) from endangered to threatened. When viewing the ESA from this perspective, it could be considered a success. According to one study, 41% of listed species have improved or stabilized their population levels after listing (Buck, Corn, Alexander, Sheikh, Meltz 2012).

 A 2005 study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the FWS doesn’t have a process that routinely assess funding decisions to ensure they are appropriate (Buck, Corn, Alexander, Sheikh, Meltz 2012). The GAO examined federal efforts to recover 31 selected species in 2006 and determined that recovery plans played an important role in all but one of the species examined (Buck, Corn, Alexander, Sheikh, Meltz 2012). Another study by the GAO in 2008 revealed that although FWS, NMFS, and other federal agencies had implemented most of the recommendations, almost one-third of the recommendations had not been implemented (Buck, Corn, Alexander, Sheikh, Meltz 2012). Some of these findings include FWS not clarifying the role of critical habitat and how and when it should be designated, not periodically assessing expenditures on species in relation to their relative priority, and FWS and NMFS are not tracking the amount of time spent by federal agencies preparing for the consultation prior to the official beginning of the process (Buck, Corn, Alexander, Sheikh, Meltz 2012).

 Conflicts with the ESA also involve prohibitions in Section 9 (private actions) and Section 7 (federal). ESA critics often claim the law routinely takes property in an unconstitutional manner (Buck, Corn, Alexander, Sheikh, Meltz 2012). The fifth amendment states property can’t be taken without just compensation but the Supreme Court has had limited success in defining what government actions impact private property so severely that it justifies the taking of private property. There have been approximately 20 court decisions addressing challenges to the ESA restrictions on land and other property. All but two findings resulted in no taking (Buck, Corn, Alexander, Sheikh, Meltz 2012). The cases involved timber cutting, reductions in water delivery to preserve instream flows need by listed species, restrictions on shooting animals that were responsible for loss of livestock, and prohibitions on the transport or sale of endangered species (Buck, Corn, Alexander, Sheikh, Meltz 2012).

 It is my opinion that the ESA needs some improvements. Its intent is to protect and recover species that have been classified as endangered but within 39 years of this law’s existence, only 26 species have been recovered. While it’s obvious the law does protect species from becoming extinct, there are facets of the law that can be improved. I do believe economic impacts should be considered when deciding to list a species as threatened or endangered. Issues such as fair compensation when private property is taken as a result of the ESA, incorporating economic impacts of listing a species, oversight in the recovery efforts to ensure the effectiveness of the recovery plans are all modifications I would implement in the ESA to improve its effectiveness.

Reference Page

  1. Buck, E. H., Corn, M. L., Alexander, K., Sheikh, P. A., & Meltz, R. (2012, June/July). The Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the 112th Congress: Conflicting Values and Difficult Choices. Retrieved June/July, 2019, from http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R41608.pdf
  2. Geographic, C. (2010, May 19). What Is Biodiversity. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kKIjmUIoZ84
  3. Green, M. (2018, September 30). Republicans accelerate efforts to overhaul Endangered Species Act. Retrieved from https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/409039-republicans-accelerate-efforts-to-overhaul-endangered-species-act
  4. Whitney, K. (2018, August 02). Critics of the Endangered Species Act are right about what it does. But they miss the point. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/made-by-history/wp/2018/08/02/critics-of-the-endangered-species-act-are-right-about-what-it-does-but-they-miss-the-point/?utm_term=.ced943bf5fea
  5. TED-Ed. (2015, April 20). Why is biodiversity so important? – Kim Preshoff. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GK_vRtHJZu4
  6. Why Is Biodiversity Important? Who Cares? (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.globalissues.org/article/170/why-is-biodiversity-important-who-cares
  7. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Endangered Species Program. (n.d.). Endangered Species Act: Overview. Retrieved from https://www.fws.gov/endangered/laws-policies/
  8. Endangered Species Act Consultation Handbook, United State Fish & Wildlife Services and National Marine and Fisheries Service (1998 March)
  9. Why Is Biodiversity Important? Who Cares? (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.globalissues.org/article/170/why-is-biodiversity-important-who-cares


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