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ISSUE 119 VOL 5 PUBLISHED 10/14/2005

Act endangers species

By April Wright
Staff Writer

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) became the nation’s most powerful environmental law in 1973. But now Republican Rep. Richard Pombo of California is advocating changes that would reduce the government’s ability to protect the 1,268 plant and animal species currently endangered.

The most objectionable proposal would give the secretary of the interior complete power to decide what scientific data should be used to determine if a species is actually endangered, as well as the authority to decide how best to protect that species. The secretary would have the authority to ignore the plight of endangered species.

The bill would also drop regulations on pesticides. Pesticides by nature eliminate targeted species. However, they can also eliminate species not targeted.

For example, many chemicals designed to kill mites also kill spiders. Most pesticides designed for wide usage can harm other species. If a plant or animal species’ population is already dwindling for whatever reason, does it really need the added threat of pesticides?

The new ESA would remove protections on the habitats of endangered or threatened species. Currently, animals and plants are granted “critical habitats” which receive federal protection. The proposed changes would eliminate these critical habitats.

Proponents claim that with recovery plans, the animals won’t need habitats. But one of the biggest threats to animals and plants is habitat encroachment: This makes no sense.

Animals and plants must have their ranges protected from interference to reproduce naturally and increase survivorship. The ESA already requires a plan to help boost species populations.

Proponents of the new ESA try to pretend that recovery plans are a novel idea, and that they will really help by negating species’ need for protected habitats. But proponents are not making a big addition to the current ESA, they are just eviscerating it.

The final major change would allow a landowner wanting to develop his or her property to submit plans to the secretary of the interior. The secretary then would have 180 days to decide whether the plan would harm any endangered species.

If the plan would have no impact or if no answer was received, the plan could proceed. If the plan would harm a species, the developer would be paid fair market value in lieu of the development. So, if you want to do something illegal on your property, the government will pay you to refrain.

In short, the House has passed a bill which would allow dangerous pesticides to be released into the environment, permit developers to encroach on species’ threatened habitats, and, worst of all, subsidize legal behavior on the part of landowners.

These “helpful” proposals are really nothing but a farrago of capitalism amok combined with bad science, and the Senate should reject them as such.

Staff writer April Wright is a first year from Eagan, Minn. She majors in biology and environmental studies.

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