Decoder: Crocodile Tears Look who's crying over endangered species. By Paul Rauber
Since shortly after Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act in 1973, enemies have conspired against it. Among the most zealous is Representative Richard Pombo (R-Calif.), the chair of the House Resources Committee. His latest effort is the Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act of 2005, passed by the House in September and promoted in this advertisement from the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call's July 20 issue. The real objects of Pombo's concern, however, are his backers in the agribusiness, real estate, forest products, and oil and gas industries. Their influence is clear: You just have to read between the lines.
Pombo advertisement from Roll Call
Green sea turtles have survived in far greater numbers since the Endangered Species Act made shrimp trawlers install "turtle-excluder devices" in their nets, a move bitterly resisted by the fishing industry. Now Pombo is traveling the world attacking endangered-species protections. Who's paying for it? Among others, the nation's largest seafood companies and the corporate parent of the Red Lobster restaurant chain.
Good luck to any species trying to recover under Pombo's bill. According to the House-passed version, the act would eliminate tens of millions of acres of critical habitat for species facing extinction, require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to pay developers and polluters not to destroy fish and wildlife habitat, and open every stage of the listing process to industry lawsuits.
This ad was paid for by Pombo's friends in 33 locals of the pulp and paper workers' union, who are still sore about the protection given the spotted owl under the Endangered Species Act. They also strongly oppose dam removal in the Northwest to preserve salmon and steelhead runs, and protections in the Southeast for the red-cockaded woodpecker that might restrict logging opportunities.
And more than 99 percent of the 1,855 total listed species have been saved from extinction. Species that have increased in the wild—sometimes dramatically—under ESA protection include the bald eagle, gray wolf, American alligator, brown pelican, Aleutian Canada goose, peregrine falcon, whooping crane, greenback cutthroat trout, and Peninsular bighorn sheep.
Pombo has a peculiar notion of whale recovery. For years, he has avidly promoted the resumption of commercial whaling, a position opposed by 78 percent of the U.S. public (as well as by the Bush administration). Pombo has been a keynote speaker at meetings of the World Council of Whalers, an organization whose Web site provides recipes for Filet of Whale With Mushroom Sauce and Whale Pie.
As far as the gray bat is concerned, the Endangered Species Act is working just fine. The creature was once found throughout the Southeast, but its numbers crashed in the 1970s because of human disturbance of bat caves. Simple steps taken as a result of its listing as an endangered species, such as the proper gating of caves, have stabilized bat populations, some of which are now increasing.
Endangered species do deserve better.
Adequate funding, for starters: Many creatures on the brink of extinction aren't being listed for lack of money. Federal and state agencies need to cooperate in their protection programs. And private landowners should be getting tax breaks to promote species recovery. Endangered species deserve a stronger act, not a weaker one.