When I was in middle school, I bought a T-shirt from World Wildlife Fund. The front was filled with a striking silkscreen image of a silverback gorilla and the back read: “ Extinction is forever.” I loved this shirt with its 1990s oversized-style and biting statement about the fragility of animals and their natural habitats. I wore it so much that classmates started calling me “ Congo.”
When the House passed the Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act of 2005, a dangerous reworking of the Endangered Species Act, last week, I felt the need to smooth out the wrinkled shirt and wear it again.
If the Senate agrees, it would mean problematic changes to the one piece of environmental legislation that is not simply a weak cover-up for power hungry control freaks.
This new bill would compensate individuals whose land cannot be developed because of the need to protect species. Basically, the government would be paying citizens to comply with the law.
The act would also give anti-environment Interior Secretary Gale Norton the power to determine what constitutes threatened or endangered species, the job currently done by qualified scientists and biologists.
And Norton does not have the best credentials. In 2001, she testified that Arctic oil drilling would not harm the caribou population. It was later shown in Kennedy’s “ Crimes Against Nature” that she had doctored several scientific reports about the effects of oil drilling before giving them to Congress. She acted similarly in 2002 with a report on salmon and in other cases.
If that is not scary enough, the new act also creates loopholes in environmental protection legislation. Under the existing law, land is protected from development when sensitive species are present, a law that has saved 21,157 public acres from oil and gas development this year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
Currently the land management bureau must consult with Fish and Wildlife Service before undertaking any activities that may harm endangered or threatened species. The new act would eliminate these consultations and thus eliminate the safeguards they create.
Sadly, it comes as no surprise. Americans are capable of such good. But as Americans we also fail to learn from our mistakes. The destruction of the Gulf Coast by Hurricane Katrina and to a lesser extent, Rita, shocked the nation. But regardless of the levy’s condition prior to the storms, New Orleans and other coastal cities were in trouble long before, when the wetlands were ignored for the sake of industry. Had land and species conservation been important to lawmakers, the damage caused by the hurricanes would have been less extensive.
Heading up support for the bill comes from – gasp! – a Republican, House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo, who reportedly said only 15 of 1,830 threatened and endangered species have been taken off the list, a testament to the current Endangered Species Act’s failure as legislation. Yes, species have become extinct under the Endangered Species Act and others are not getting the publicity that whales, elephants, great apes and giant pandas get through organizations like the World Wildlife Fund. But loosening the rules and allowing politicians to call all the shots will only cause more species to be forgotten.
Bailey Porter, a senior journalism major, is web editor of the Campus Times. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.