The Endangered Species Act Does More Harm Than Good
CON (4 arguments)
Endangered Species Act- must be for both plants and animals, as defined in the Act
The longer an animal or plant species is protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, the more likely it is to recover, a new study says. The finding contradicts recent criticism that the act has returned too few species to full health. Researchers Martin Taylor and Kieran Suckling compared population trends of 1,095 listed species with three related factors: how long the species were listed, whether their habitat had been protected, and whether specific recovery plans were in place. Overall, the study found that the Endangered Species Act is effective, said Suckling, co-author of the study and policy director of the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, Arizona. “We were able to identify three aspects that contribute to the act's success: recovery plans, critical habitat protection, and the listing itself,” he said. “Each of those has an independent contribution, and therefore we need to do more of those things.” Critics argue that recovery of only 15 animals in 32 years indicates failure. Suckling counters that the statistic is not a good measure of the act's effectiveness. “That would be like walking into an emergency room and saying, ‘Look, everyone is sick. This hospital must be a failure.’” Suckling notes that the Endangered Species Act is, by any measure, a success: 99.9 percent of species protected by the Act have been kept from extinction and, where measured, 93 percent of protected species are moving toward recovery. Success here should be measured by saves, and by that yardstick, the Endangered Species Act has been a clear success – only 30 species have disappeared after being placed on the list. A recent poll done by the Defenders of Wildlife shows that most Americans agree on the importance of preserving our nation’s rich and unique national heritage: 90% agree that the Endangered Species Act has helped hundreds of species recover from the brink of extinction and 87% agree that the Endangered Species Act is a successful safety net for protecting wildlife, plants, and fish from extinction.
When the proper metrics are used to measure its impact, it’s clear the Endangered Species Act successfully protects species from extinction - respected research institutes and the American public all agree that the Act does more good than harm.
National Geographic; LA Times article April 2017; Defenders of Wildlife institute
The Endangered Species Act protects species who are considered “keystone,” whose loss can transform or undermine the ecological processes or fundamentally change the species composition of the wildlife community.
The gray wolf is one such keystone species. Let me explain why saving a keystone species is so important. When wolves were restored to Yellowstone National Park through the Endangered Species Act, they started to control the park’s large population of elk, which had been over consuming the willows and other trees that grew along streams. The recovery of these trees is cooling stream flows, which benefits native trout and increases nesting habitat for migratory birds. Beavers now have willow branches to eat, and beaver dams create marshland habitat for otters, mink, and ducks. Wolves even beneﬁt the threatened grizzly bear, since grizzlies ﬁnd it easier to take over a wolf kill than to bring down their own elk. Another example of a keystone species is the dodo bird. Although the dodo bird became extinct in 1681, we are just beginning to understand the effects of its extinction on the ecosystem. Recently, a scientist noticed that a certain species of tree was becoming quite rare on Mauritius. In fact, he noticed that all 13 of the remaining trees of this species were about 300 years old. No new trees had germinated since the late 1600s. It turns out that the dodo bird ate the fruit of the tree, and it was only by passing through the dodo’s digestive system that the seeds became active and could grow. Another keystone species protected under the Endangered Species Act is the Whitebark pine. This tree is a keystone species because it regulates runoff by slowing the progress of snowmelt, reduces soil erosion by initiating early regrowth after fires and other disturbances, and provides seeds that are a high-energy food source for some birds and mammals. This tree is being reforested under the Endangered Species Act, to the benefit of the whole forest.
Clearly, you cannot just count species saved and say whether the Endangered Species Act is a success or not. Saving keystone species which are protected under the Act, has long reaching benefits for many other threatened plants and animals in the ecosystem. It is not as simple as saying the Act saved a handful of species - each of those species could be the keystone to preserving an entire ecosystem.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
According to the NY Times, there are many reasons to save our fellow species, but the public is largely unaware that plants and animals are saving human lives every single day.
The extinction crisis is more than just of academic interest; our survival as a species depends on the health of the planet’s ecosystems. Humans rely on plant and animal species not only to provide us food and sustenance directly, but for a variety of other services crucial to our survival: helping to clean our water, provide oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide, enrich our soil, prevent erosion, control floods, pollinate crops, and so on. The total value of these ‘ecosystem services’ is difficult to measure, but one economist has estimated it at $33 trillion per year. According to Jon Roush President of the Washington Wilderness Society, “almost all of us benefit from medicinal qualities of plants and animals; nine of the ten most frequently prescribed drugs are derived from natural sources. Pharmaceutical companies are scrambling to find cures to other maladies, scouring rain forests and other hotbeds of biological diversity, including areas in the United States. Drugs derived from nature generate $20 billion a year in revenue. We need a strong Endangered Species Act to protect our native species and their habitat. The act that protects them protects us.” Endangered plants and animals may also hold the keys to breakthroughs in the treatments of deadly diseases. For example, the Pacific yew tree’s bark yields the anti-cancer drug taxol. The Madagascar periwinkle’s sap contains substances that have proven effective in the treatment of Hodgkin’s disease and childhood leukemia. Indeed, when the Act was first passed in 1973, then President Nixon said “Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of plant and animal life with which our country has been blessed.” The Endangered Species Act has saved almost 100% of those species listed as endangered, and thus, has succeeded in its main purpose.
NY Times; US Fish and Wildlife Service; The Defenders of Wildlife
Healthy populations of plants and animals also help support our economy. Each year, Americans spend billions of dollars on hunting, fishing, birdwatching and other recreation that depend on wildlife and habitat conservation. For example, visitors who come to Yellowstone National Park to view gray wolves restored by the Endangered Species Act spend an estimated $35 million each year. On the East Coast, nearly half a million birders travel to the Delaware Bay each spring to catch a glimpse of imperiled red knots and other shorebirds on their annual migration. These birders generate a total of $12 million to $20 million in economic impact for Delaware Bay communities. Nationwide, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates the total value of wildlife-dependent recreation at $122 billion annually. According to the LA Times editorial board, the criticism of the Endangered Species Act as economically unviable is untrue. The goal of Republican critics of the Endangered Species Act, isn’t to nurture species to recovered status, but to make it easier to develop wilderness areas and encroach on crucial habitats. Wyoming Senator Barrasso is among the western Republicans who want to turn federal land over to state control under the spurious argument that states know best how to care for it. They’re really trying to open public land for private exploitation, the environmental costs be damned.” Additionally, a recent poll shows that 66% of respondents reject the false choice between jobs or economy and protection of species and agree that the law is necessary to prevent species from going extinct. This plurality believes we can protect our natural heritage for future generations while growing our economy and creating jobs. Less than one-fourth (24%) agree with critics who contend that the law hurts our economy and destroys jobs, according to Tulchin Research and the Earthjustice environmental group.
LA Times; The Defenders of Wildlife; Tulchin Research Labs; Earthjustice