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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

ESA Commentary

Air Date: Week of

Commentator John Shanahan remarks on his dissatisfaction with the Endangered Species Act and how private land owners should be included more in the process. Shanahan is Vice-President of the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution in Arlington, Virginia.


SHANAHAN: Advocates of the Endangered Species Act see it as a safety net that helps bring species back from the brink of extinction. Opponents, such as land owners who have lost the right to use their own land, believe it puts the welfare of plants and animals above people. But a new study shows that both may be wrong, at least about the law helping endangered species.

CURWOOD: Commentator John Shanahan.

SHANAHAN: The National Wilderness Institute is a group which promotes conservation through the use of market forces. It found that not a single species has recovered and been removed from the Endangered Species List because of the Act. Not one. According to the study, only 27 species have been taken off the endangered list. In more than half these cases, Federal officials decided it was a mistake to list them in the first place. For example, the pine-barren tree frog was originally thought to exist in only 7 locations. The frog was later found to thrive in another 315 places. So it was taken off the list. Other plants and animals were mis-categorized. For example, the supposedly rare Mexican duck was actually just a blue-eyed mallard. So it was taken off the list.

Some species have recovered, but for reasons unrelated to the Act. The Arctic peregrine falcon recovered because of the ban on DDT, as well as a cultural change among hunters. In earlier years, hunters and farmers commonly shot these birds' prey. But the practice went out of favor in the 1960s. The gray whales population has also rebounded, but its numbers have been increasing since the late 1800s, long before the Endangered Species Act was passed. The remaining species taken off the list, such as the long-jaw sisko and Sampson's pearly mussel, were not so fortunate. They went extinct. This study demonstrates what many have known for years. The Endangered Species Act is broken. It's time to scrap this law and start over. Until we know where to focus our efforts, we cannot help the species truly in need. Until we stop taking away people's ability to use their own land, we will never make them champions of species protection. If we are to save species from extinction, we need to make land owners the biggest supporters of the law, not its biggest opponents.

CURWOOD: Commentator John Shanahan is Vice President of the Alexis de Toqueville Institution in Arlington, Virginia.



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