When President Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act into law, he was recognizing an ethical imperative to conserve species, an imperative shared by the vast majority of the American public. It was and remains a popular law. Polls from 1999 and 2011 found that 84 percent of the American public, in both major political parties, support the act and the safety net it provides for species at risk of extinction. Given the popularity of the Endangered Species Act, opponents who wish to weaken or repeal it are left with propagating myths about its failure, cost and intrusive nature.
In his opinion piece “Endangered Species Act’s hidden costs” (Feb. 8), Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican, claims that WildEarth Guardians’ settlement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is a closed-door conspiracy to assault private-property rights. Nothing could be further from the truth. The agreement has streamlined the listing process, reduced litigation, provided regulatory certainty for public and private land users and spurred crucial protection for our nation’s most imperiled plants and animals.
The settlement expedites decision-making for hundreds of species that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service already has determined are in desperate need of the safety net that the Endangered Species Act provides. The public will have multiple opportunities to comment during the decision-making process, contrary to Mr. Vitter’s claims that closed-door negotiations exclude stakeholder input. The Endangered Species Act is one of the nation’s most flexible laws, offering a variety of tools and incentives for private landowners to participate in species conservation.
The effects of species listings on private landowners and public land users are minimal. A survey conducted from 1979 to 1999 found less than 1 percent of federally funded or permitted activities — two out of 11,000 projects reviewed annually — were prevented from moving forward because of protections for endangered species.
The law simply requires commonsense measures to minimize harm to imperiled species. Protecting these species for ethical, environmental, cultural, economic, medicinal and spiritual purposes certainly is worth taking on this obligation. If it was good enough for Nixon and Americans overwhelmingly support it, we think it’s a law well worth fighting for.
Endangered Species Advocate