The heart of the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973 is the provision requiring protection of habitat for animals and plants in danger of becoming extinct. Fortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court held, 6-3, that such protection is reasonable, given the intent of Congress to protect endangered species and help in their recovery.
The court ruled that the law's prohibition against harming endangered species permitted the government to prevent private land owners from destroying or seriously degrading a species' habitat. Thus, the court held, the government has the right to stop logging companies from cutting timber in forests that provide habitat for the spotted owl.
The court ruling is not the end of the matter, however. What the opponents of the law could not achieve through the courts, they are now seeking to do in Congress.
A number of key Republicans in the House and Senate, backed by Democrats, are working on bills that would renew the act, but in ways that undercut federal power to protect species. This approach is particularly true for species found on private property. With the recent emphasis on compensating landowners for "takings" on private property by restricting property use, pressure has been mounting in various quarters to weaken the law so preservation of a threatened species on private property would not be required.
Members of Congress should look not for ways to cripple the act but for ways to make it work. This may mean, in cases of highly threatened species in unique habitats without which the species will not survive, that the government pays landowners for protection of habitat. …