Environmental Politics and the Endangered Species Act
Sahr, David, Social Education
ON JULY 3, 1999, a photo of President Clinton and a bald eagle named "Challenger" appeared on the front page of The Washington Post The accompanying article explained that our national emblem was being reclassified from an "endangered" to a merely "threatened" species.(1) Listed as endangered in 1973, the bald eagle's recovery--though slower than expected a year ago because its habitat remains in short supply--is still expected to swell to a point where it will be removed from the threatened list. Achievement of this goal is testimony to the success of the Endangered Species Act.
Or is it? Many people say it was not this law which saved the bald eagle, but rather, other factors such as the general effort to clean up our environment and the specific banning of the pesticide DDT. While we as a nation are thrilled about the bright future of the eagle, this episode offers no definitive answer to questions about the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Two common questions are: Is the act working effectively to save endangered plants and animals? Is the act being abused in ways that encumber our nation's economic development?
The Endangered Species Act has been the subject of recurrent political battles almost since its inception. It has multiple supporters and detractors, and the rhetoric various groups employ to support their arguments is harsh and extreme at times. One thing is clear: the ESA is a wonderful example of both our nation's good intentions and the unintended consequences that sometimes flow from public policy decisions. This article looks at this controversial topic and suggests ways to explore it in social studies classrooms. Teachers looking for a law to use as a case study with students might choose the Endangered Species Act to exemplify how science and politics may collide with enormous ramifications.
Scope of the Extinction Problem
Odd as it may seem as we enter the 21st century, scientists still don't know how many species of plants and animals exist on Earth. Thus far, about two million species have been named and identified, closer to one hundred million.(2) (This includes everything from amoebas to elephants.) How are Earth's species faring? According to Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson, 27,000 of the planet's species become extinct annually--or one about every 20 minutes. A more moderate extinction figure commonly voiced is one species lost about every eight hours, or three speaks each day, this being largely attributed to manmade changes in the environment.(3) Whichever statistic is used, the reality is a tragedy of catastrophic proportions, especially when viewed in terms of Earth's history. The "background," or average, rate of extinction without some unusual calamity is believed to be a few species every million years.(4)
Within the United States, the estimate for extinctions is approximately 4,000 spedes within the next five to ten years. Ninety percent of counties in the U.S. host at least one animal or plant on the endangered species list, making the problem national in scope.(5) According to the Endangered Species Coalition, 2,000 to 3,000 additional species should be added to the endangered list immediately to protect the 30 percent of U.S. wildlife it sees as imperiled.(6)
While there has always been species extinction on this planet, the enormity of the current problem is what worries some scientists. Since all living things are linked, the impact that the loss of even one species will have on others is definite even though we may not realize it. For example, a bird called the Dodo became extinct several hundred years ago on the island of Mauritius. In the century just past, it was noted that a certain tree, the Calvaria Major, was not being repopulated. Some biologists believe that the reason for the tree's reproduction problems is linked to the death of the Dodo, which ate its seeds and passed them on in a form more likely to germinate. With the Dodo gone, the tree has also become imperiled and could one day face extinction.(7)
Scope of the Endangered Species Act
The Endangered Species Act is no ordinary law. According to John W. Fitzpatrick director of the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology,
We should cherish and jealously protect the ESA, the single most important environmental law ever passed by any society. With it, Americans led the world in declaring that they would willingly allow no species to go extinct as a consequence of human action. We took the fundamentally moral stand that irrevocable destruction of biological resources cheats future generations, and that other organisms have a right to exist.(8)
It is seriously questioned by both the political right and left whether Congress truly understood the scope of the law it passed in 1973. The Endangered Species Act is a powerful and broad law that has been used, for example, to stop the building of highways, to cease farming in fields, and to halt construction of dams. In an environmental mood unparalleled in U.S. history, Congress approved several landmark pieces of legislation during the same decade. These include the Clean Air Act (1970), the Toxic Substances Control Act (1976), and the Clean Water Act (1977). The ESA itself sailed through both houses of Congress with barely a dissenting vote, signifying bipartisan support.
The act is fairly straightforward. It forbids the "taking" of any species of plant or animal listed as "endangered" by the federal government. "Taking" is defined as: harassing, harming, pursuing, hunting, shooting, wounding, killing, trapping, capturing, or collecting. Species are placed on the list solely due to biological considerations and should have a "critical habitat" listed so that a suitable environment can be preserved for their survival. Any citizen may bring a suit against the federal government or a private person or group for violating the ESA, and this ability has lead to numerous court cases over its enforcement.
Since 1973, the ESA has been significantly amended three times and has been awaiting reauthorization (a congressional process to update and renew spending on a law) since 1992. The amendments have served to provide greater flexibility to the act than was originally granted. The first amendment in 1978 allowed for exemptions to its scope when deemed important enough by a group of federal officials often called the "God Squad" because of their ability to issue a directive resulting in extinction.(9) Later amendments allowed for the taking of endangered species through "incidental take permits" as long as the person or group involved is following a habitat conservation plan. This means that if certain precautions are followed and a few members of an endangered or threatened species are still killed by error, no action will be taken against the offending party.
The success of the ESA can be viewed in different ways depending on one's perspective. As of summer 2000, more than 1,200 species of plants and animals were listed as endangered or threatened in the United States. Over time, 27 species of plants and animals have been "delisted," or removed, from the endangered species list, and another 22 have been downlisted to a threatened status. However, of the 27 species that were delisted, seven were removed from the list due to extinction, and nine were removed because they were put there in error to begin with. Only ten species of animal and one plant have repopulated sufficiently to justify claiming a complete recovery, the most well known of these being the American alligator.(10) Given that 50 to 100 species are added to the endangered species list each year,(11) the removal of these eleven species seems like a drop in a very large bucket.
Criticisms of the ESA
An argument exists for not trying to preserve every species--for accepting that extinction is part of life and that trying to prevent it is unnatural. Yet most critics of the ESA are careful to distinguish their objections to the act itself from the larger concept of saving endangered species. They argue, variously, that the act conflicts with other values and that changing it will not harm wildlife. The chief criticisms of the ESA are summed up as follows:
* Overly bureaucrats. Opponents of the ESA say it is too "bureaucratic," a word often interchangeable with "regulatory." The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) cites numerous examples of developers who had their plans altered or cancelled due to the ESA. The NAHB publishes a booklet titled The Truth About the Endangered Species Act that diagrams a cumber-some 43-step process that developers must follow in order to build on property that may contain or be located near an endangered species habitat. It points to examples like that told by an Austin, Texas, developer who sought to build a housing community near the habitat of the Golden-Checked Warbler, an endangered bird. In the 18 months it took for the Fish and Wildlife Service to determine the effects of the proposed community on the bird, the developer lost so much revenue that he was forced to abandon his proposed housing project.(12)
* Excessively expensive. According to one source, it costs between $50,000 to $100,000 to list a species as endangered. This cost includes the scientific research and determination of critical habitat.(13) The Department of Interior estimated the cost of recovery of all endangered species at $4.6 billion in 1990.(14) But more than the public costs of species recovery are the private costs that certain members of society must bear. In some cases, individual private property owners have been forbidden from developing their land as they would like. When landowners are forced to shoulder a large share of the responsibility for implementing the act, a sense of inequity surfaces. In other words, we all benefit from having endangered species survive, but we all don't pay the price for their protection. This sense of inequity led to the rise of a movement in the 1970s called the "Sagebrush Rebellion."
* Violates properly rights. The Sagebrush Rebellion, which occurred in the western U.S., was a protest against the growth of environmental regulations and part of a larger feeling of indignation about centralized power in Washington, D.C. Associated with it are other groups that believe in minimal government rules and regulations, greater power at the state and local level, and that nature can be enjoyed and used by humans simultaneously.(15) These groups include the Wise Use Movement, the County Supremacy movement, and the Property Rights movement. Many people in these groups argue for modifications in the ESA. They advocate, variously, opening up more public lands for mineral/ oil exploration and for off-road vehicle recreation; logging old growth forests; and allowing development to occur on property that is a habitat for endangered or threatened species.(16) Arizona's governor in 1992 summed up the property rights philosophy: "A clean environment is a commodity like any other, and it cannot be had without cost. Paying that cost requires capital; accumulation of capital requires markets; and markets require eternal vigilance in the protection of private property."(17)
* List species randomly. In the first five years after the passage of the ESA, 96 species were placed on the list. These included: 21 plants, 12 reptiles, 10 fish, 8 birds, 6 mammals, and 29 mollusks. Why such a high number of mollusks? The answer gets right to the criticism of the random nature of the ESA. It seems that one of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) biologists at the time specialized in the study of mollusks and, there being little doubt about their endangerment, focused on placing them on the endangered species list.(18) Having a sponsor may save a species while not having one can be devastating, The bald eagle and the whale are widely recognized as endangered and can attract sympathy as well as massive financial donations and letters to Congress. Other creatures and plants are not as fortunate. For a while the manatee, or sea cow, lacked a group to shout for its survival and became dangerously threatened. Since groups have formed on its behalf, it has gained recognition. Much of the support animals receive has to do with their appeal. Cute and cuddly animals--referred to as "charismatic megafauna"--receive more affection than do slimy invertebrates.
* Just "doesn't work." The ultimate criticism of the ESA states that even when it functions as it is supposed to, it doesn't save wildlife. "The Endangered Species Act simply doesn't work," said Representative Helen Chenoweth-Hage (R-Idaho) at a recent House Resources Committee hearing. She believes the act costs U.S. taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars each year in lost opportunities for development projects that are either stalled or abandoned. She, and others who agree with her, point to the meager numbers of plants and animals that have been recovered under the act since its inception as proof that it is a failure.(19)
In Support Of the ESA
Supporters of the ESA believe that the harm posed to the planet by the high number of potential extinctions justifies their efforts at species preservation. They are proud to champion their cause--often with significantly fewer resources than are available to their anti-ESA counterparts--and argue for continued support of, and even for strengthening, the ESA. The chief arguments for the ESA are summed up as follows:
* Promotes biodiversity. Supporters of the ESA believe that the greater the diversity of plant/animal life, the closer we leave the planet to its original design and the more stable our environment remains. Thus, biodiversity is a prevention against disasters. We know that every creature has some role to play in the environment, even if we don't fully understand what that role is. The wolf,, for example, is important to the ecosystem of forests in hunting animals that would otherwise overgraze the plant life. When wolves faced local extirpation, elk and deer overgrazed some plants and thus altered the food available in the forest. By reintroducing wolves in parts of the West--a highly controversial act--the idea was to restore balance to the ecosystem. Supporters of the ESA often quote Aldo Leopold, sage and source of inspiration for environmentalists, when arguing this point: "To save every cog in the wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering."(20)
* Pragmatism. Plants and animals provide humans with useful and sometimes unique products. Among those gaining increasing attention are drags extracted from rainforest plants. For instance, the anti-cancer drug Taxol comes from the bark of a yew tree found in the old growth forests of the Pacific Northwest.(2l) With each extinction, there is the loss of a potentially helpful product for human use.
* Ethical/Religious. This argument stresses the idea that humans have an ethical responsibility to all living organisms on the planet to ensure their survival, and that this obligation transcends economic costs, which are a purely Western concept.(22) Related to this is a religious argument--that many organisms have been on earth longer than humans and are here as part of God's plan--that has led some religious groups to ally with environmentalists. They point to the Biblical story of Noah as evidence that God specifically wanted at least two of every species preserved when the great flood occurred.
* Self-fulfilling prophecy. An entirely different line of defense for the ESA argues that the reasons for any problems with the law are due to critics who have undermined it. According to one author, "the very people who complain about the act are the ones who have made it malfunction.(23) As this argument goes, many business groups say the act doesn't work, but they have been responsible for much of the habitat destruction that continues to require the listing of additional species, not to mention reducing the chances for survival of species already on the list. Similarly, environmental groups have a difficult time accepting the industry contention that it really supports the ESA and only wants to see it modified to make it more reasonable. "When push comes to shove and there's a really bad endangered species bill out there that would essentially gut the act, virtually every industry coalition lines up to push the bill. It's hard for us to take on face value the statements that [they] want to save endangered species."(24)
* The act does work. While some environmentalists will concede that the ESA is not perfect, they add that its shortcomings are no reason to abolish or weaken it. It was the intention of the act to slow down development where it poses a significant threat to wildlife. Says one proponent, "The Act is a very good act. It's very good at preventing extinctions of species. It has not been as good at promoting recovery of species. So you get species put on the endangered species list, but you're not getting them taken off the [list] at the same rate."(25) In fact, since the United States was founded, over 500 animal and plant species have become extinct, but there have been only seven documented extinctions since the passage of the ESA.(26) Furthermore, when critics of the ESA point to its lack of success, defenders are quick to remind them of the relatively short time the act has had to work. In biological terms, the fewer than three decades the ESA has been law is miniscule, and certainly does not leave sufficient recovery time for a species that was severely depleted before it was placed on the endangered species list.(27)
Tactics in the Political Struggle
As mentioned previously, environmental groups connect the ESA with saving species and believe the law is largely responsible for wildlife and habitat protection in America. Critics, on the other hand, disconnect the two and say there's little or nothing in the act that leads to wildlife preservation. They believe altering or even abolishing the act would not have a devastating effect on wildlife in this country. This divergence of opinion between the two sides can be viewed as a tactical plan within the larger political war. If citizens agree with the environmentalists that the ESA is crucial, then they will oppose attempts to weaken it; contrarily, if citizens feel the act can be weakened and wildlife will still be protected, then they will favor that course. Each side in the debate is trying to pro mote its vision of the importance and effectiveness of the act. The following are some of the tactics used in this struggle.
When students are first introduced to the political process, they learn that Congress makes the laws. This is true but it is also misleading in two ways. First, in recent years Congress has been passing new laws indirectly in the form of additions, or "riders," to major spending bills. Laws passed in this manner often are not noticed as readily and do not receive the media attention that a singular law such as the Clean Water Act is given.
In the environmental area, riders have become a common method for changing existing laws. According to one source, in the 1999 session of Congress alone, about 80 environmentally-related riders were attached to other bills, mainly for appropriations, in order to secure their passage parasitically.(28) These included riders that would "allow mining companies to dump more waste on federal lands, prevent the tightening of fuel economy standards for light trucks, and defund international efforts to fight ozone depletion."(29) It was reported that at least 56 environmental riders were placed on appropriations bills midway through the 2000 session.(30)
Environmentalists believe riders are being used in this way due to the popularity of the ESA. If overt attempts were made to harm the ESA, there would be a public outcry, but weakening it covertly through riders attracts far less publicity. Members of Congress who vote to weaken the ESA can claim they are merely voting for an appropriations bill necessary to keep our government operating.
A second point about laws passed by Congress involves how much their intent is affected by the federal agencies that implement them. The enormous discretion federal agencies have in implementing laws cannot be overstated. With regard to the Endangered Species Act, the method of enforcement by the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is critical. For example, which species will be listed under the act and which will not? Would developing a certain parcel of land destroy the critical habitat needed for a species' survival? These and other crucial questions are determined in practice not by Congress but by the agencies that administer the law. There is even an argument that administrative agencies play a more important role than Congress in determining the strength and scope of laws in America.
It seems evident, therefore, that administrative agencies like the FWS are bound to be caught in the middle of the political tug-of-war over the ESA. If they enforce the act stringently as environmentalists want, they offend business interests and private landowners. If they allow lax enforcement, then they suffer the wrath of the environmental community. Either is likely to make them subject to lawsuits. There are accusations that environmental groups raise funds by bringing suits against large corporations and government agencies.(31) According to one source, "A lot of environmental groups' livelihood is made off of the endangered species crisis" In fact, said this source, it is in the interest of some environmental groups NOT to solve the problem.(32)
Caught in this crossfire, the administrative agencies involved are sometimes reluctant to act assertively when it comes to ESA enforcement. It is easier to say more studies need to be done than to act quickly and risk a highly-publicized controversy. The possible result: at least one "General Accounting Office study of the endangered species program concluded ... that FWS officials delayed listing species because they were potentially controversial and feared the political ramifications of listing"(33)
One example of such heel-dragging resulted in the extinction of the dusky seaside sparrow. This species of bird was listed as endangered in 1967-six years before passage of the ESA-but its critical habitat was not outlined for another ten years. This came much too late, as the sparrow inhabited land used by NASA and the space program. In order to eradicate mosquitoes from the area--and make this coastal part of Florida conducive to development and tourism--the only suitable habitat for the dusky sea sparrow was eliminated and the last of the species perished in 1987.(34)
David Wilcove of Environmental Defense describes another example that is not quite so tragic, but is certainly odd. He makes the point that so much pressure is put on agencies like FWS that irrational decisions are sometimes made in an attempt to placate all sides in a controversy. "In one bizarre case, the Fish and Wildlife Service allowed a developer to build 753 condominiums in prime habitat for the endangered Alabama beach mouse, but insisted that none of the residents be permitted to own cats--apparently a politically more palatable decision than simply refusing to allow the construction in the first place"(35)
Threatening budget allocations is another tactic used to influence public policy. Unlike direct legislative action, altering the budget of an enforcement agency is quiet and out of the media spotlight; but doing so can have an enormous impact on how the law is implemented. ESA supporters consistently bring up the point that the FWS and NMFS budgets are severely inadequate. According to one source who has worked on the endangered species issue for over 20 years, the FWS budget should be at least 2 to 3 times the $189 million that it is now, but Congress will not appropriate funding at a higher level. The source, Michael Bean, senior attorney with Environmental Defense, says more money is spent delivering Dominos pizzas in the Washington, D.C., area than is given to the FWS to enforce the ESA.(36) In the mid-1990s, when a battle erupted over the fees the federal government charged ranchers to use public lands, the tactic used by the ranch movement was to lobby western senators to decrease the Interior Department's budget. This tactic, in the end, resulted in fees more in line with what the ranch industry had in mind.(37)
Public Relations Tactics
A less concrete but no less important political tactic in this debate is using public relations, provided by advertising firms, to further the ends of each side. Environmental groups can do this easily by posting a photo of an animal-usually one with a high level of charisma--and broadcasting that this species faces extinction if X, Y or Z occurs. The other side does something similar by painting the law itself as redundant. "Sometimes they may attempt to create a public perception that some laws are just plain needless or silly, placing some environmental laws in the same category as unessential occupational safety and health rules or complicated tax codes.(38)
Businesses that try to avoid or minimize environmental laws may also flout their pro-environmental record whenever possible. Weyerhauser calls itself the "tree growing company." General Motors photographed its Sonoma-model truck in what looked like a grove of old growth trees, using the caption: "Our respect for nature goes beyond just giving you an excellent view of it." The ad goes on to explain that GMC contributes substantially to environmental causes. One source concluded, "while the automaker still attempts to reduce its environmental compliance costs through legislative means, it also tries to soften potential opposition to its policies through the manipulation of its image"(39) The term coined for businesses that attempt to appear more environmentally friendly is "greenwashing"(40)
Another tactic used in the environmental debate is simply adopting a more favorabble name for a group. The Environmental Defense Fund recently dropped the word "Fund" from its name to avoid the notion that all it does is raise money. The National Wilderness Institute gives the image of an environmental organization dedicated to preserving nature. In fact, its goal is to advance private property rights and economic interests, and it has lobbied to remove wetlands from protection under the ESA.(41)
The political behavior described here is just the tip of the iceberg in this debate. When so much is at stake--both in terms of money to be made and the finality of extinction-each side goes to the extreme to have its say. It is no wonder then that the ESA, due to be reauthorized in 1988, has yet to have this process completed. The fact is, no side can accumulate a significant majority to push through reauthorization legislation. Congress is fractured between those members from the East who are generally pleased with the law and those from the West who are more critical. It contains factions who feel the law could be amended to be more property-owner friendly, those who think it needs to be strengthened to eliminate loopholes, those who believe it should be left untouched, and those who believe it should be completely repealed. Also, it goes without saying that there is a huge divide between the two major political parties on environmental matters.
The endangered species issue, which initially appeared to be above politics, is not. According to one author, "the federal government, from its elected leaders to its implementing agencies, has shifted its approach to environmental protection largely dependent upon the winds of electoral change, public opinion, and technological advancement"(42) Politics encircle every aspect of the ESA, from the listing of a species, to designating critical habitat, to funding for the agencies that oversee it, to the logos adorning the letterheads of interest groups that argue over it. What at first appears a benign issue is, upon closer inspection, one of the most hotly disputed and politically charged topics in the nation today.
The Future of the ESA
Suggestions about how we can best save endangered species vary depending on one's perspective. Ignorance about the issue is one challenge that must be faced. For instance, one FWS poll found that only 25 percent of those surveyed knew the endangered manatee was not an insect. Moreover, the public does not support protecting all species equally. In the same survey, it was learned that as a species becomes more "likeable" (cute, charismatic, cuddly), there is more desire to protect it-or at least more interest in spending public money to do so. Ninety two percent of those surveyed favored protecting the bald eagle, 74 percent were in favor of protecting the crocodile, 47 percent thought protecting the indigo snake was worthwhile, 42 percent expressed support for the Furbish lousewort, and 38 percent supported the Kauai wolf spider.(43) What follows are some of the more popular suggestions about what our country should do to save its endangered plant and animal species.
Financial Incentives. If one idea is welcomed by all sides in this debate, it is the proposal for financial incentives to protect endangered species. Incentives are positive, as opposed to fines and threats, which are negative by definition. The ESA forbids one from doing many things, but does nothing to encourage developers, landowners, and others to preserve wildlife. What types of incentives could be tried? One proposal is to change the estate laws to allow a family who has inherited a parcel of land to pay a lower tax if they agree to leave it undeveloped.(44) Another proposal would create an "Endangered Species Habitat Tax Credit? As the name suggests, this is a way of adding value to land without developing it. Right now, there is little financial incentive to let one's land remain undeveloped; this idea would give a tax credit to a landowner who holds endangered species habitat or who works to create such a habitat on his/her land for possible occupation by an endangered species.(45)
Increased Funding. Increasing the budget for those agencies responsible for implementing the ESA is another suggestion for improvement. The FWS budget has grown at one-seventh the rate of the endangered species list. According to one botanist with this agency, lack of funding has resulted in haphazard gathering of data about plants. "We just don't have the time to go out and check out these plants ourselves, in most cases. We also don't have a lot of contract money to pay other people. But we have to know whether a plant is endangered throughout all or a significant portion of its range. ... So we're telling botanists around the country 'You go out and do the hunting in your areas. We have to rely on your free help and commitment' In a region where no one cared enough to volunteer his time, the plants could just become extinct ... ."(46)
Safe Harbor. An idea suggested by Environmental Defense and supported by various business and farming groups is called the "Safe Harbor" program. Under this proposal, a landowner who restores habitat for an endangered species on his/her land will face no additional restrictions on the use of that land should such a species take up residence there. This means that the landowner could build on the land at a later date with no risk of a penalty under the ESA. Safe Harbor does not guarantee the future survival of the species, but it does "buy the species time," according to its architect, Michael Bean. In some cases, all that a species needs is more time to repopulate.(47)
Triage. One category of proposals is something advocates of maximum biodiversity do not like to hear. It says that we can't preserve every endangered species and we ought not try. Charles Mann and Mark Plummer propose something similar to emergency room triage for endangered species. Because we don't have unlimited money as a society, they conclude, we can't afford to save every imperiled species. We need to somehow rate each species, and then save as many species as possible within budgetary constraints. When our society spends a large portion of its endangered species budget on a few species--for example, plants or animals that inhabit land of higher value-it allows others on the list to continue their decline.
Trust. These authors propose creating a "national biodiversity trust," a publicly-funded foundation to oversee our nation's natural resources. Its goals would be to increase funding to hire more biologists and perform more studies on endangered species, to provide incentives for people to preserve species and habitats, and to buy land and hold it in perpetuity. The trust would be voluntary and managed by an array of natural scientists, political scientists, economists, and philosophers. These people would be entrusted with the job of balancing: natural preservation versus economic development and human expansion. The trust's board would decide how much effort to invest in protecting each endangered species. For instance, should the Florida Scrub Jay be given more or less than the American burying beetle? Congress would be the ultimate power in overriding or approving decisions made by the trust.(48)
Controversial? Yes, indeed, and that's precisely what makes the study of the Endangered Species Act so exciting for students. Like many other laws, there are limited resources and competing ideas on how to spend the money. What is so deceptive about this issue is the complexity underlying an apparently simple concept. Extinction is forever, and most people think this must be avoided at all costs. But when the costs become known, it does lead some (but certainly not all) to reconsider their initial notion. This is the beauty of using the ESA as a lesson in teaching. People who are not biologists can grasp the basics of the topic fairly easily, there are extensive resources available to gain further knowledge, and there is a moral quandary that must be considered in reaching a conclusion. There are also ample opportunities for students to act upon their conclusions--whatever they may be.
The following are ideas for teaching about the Endangered Species Act. are numerous resources available in print and on websites for researching these activities. I am happy to give suggestions for additional sources and can be reached at my school's e-mail account: email@example.com
1 "Today more than 85% of the virgin forests of the U. S. have been logged, 90% of the tallgrass prairies have been plowed or paved, and 98% of the rivers and streams have been dammed, diverted or developed. ... About one third of species of plants and animals in the U. S. are either endangered or threatened with extinction in the near future." (Wilcove, Condot's Shadow, 5,8). There are five key reasons for species extinction in the United States today.
a. Ask students to speculate about which of the following reasons for species extinction is most significant and explain why they think so. (The answer is habitat destruction.)
* habitat destruction
* introduction of nonnative animals or plants
* diseases carried by nonnative plants and animals
* air and water pollution
b. Assign students to research each of these five causes of species extinction. What example(s) can they cite of species that are threatened, endangered, or have become extinct due to one of these causes?
c. Ask students to discuss which causes of species extinction they think would be easiest to legislate against. Why? Which causes would be most difficult to control? Why?
2 One of the greatest threats to some endangered species is the internal combustion engine. Collisions with cars and trucks are a major problem in certain areas for Florida black bears, Florida panthers, desert tortoises, gray wolves, Key deer, American crocodiles, indigo snakes, Houston toads, red-cockaded woodpeckers, brown pelicans, and many more (not to mention a problem for people, too!). For example, around 65 percent of Florida panther and Florida black bear deaths are related to highway accidents. Draw up a list of things you would do to lessen this threat to endangered species. Which things can you do yourself? Which would require government action? Which do you think would be most easy and most difficult to accomplish?
3 This issue screams for active lessons where students take sides and debate. This can be done in the format of a mock trial, a formal debate, or a bargaining session between different interests. The groups represented can range from extremes on both sides (environmentalists who oppose any compromise and business/property interests who want to abolish the ESA), to other groups who favor some sort of middle ground. Students could begin their preparations by reading all or parts of the article. Some possible questions to center the activity are:
* Does the ESA mean that we should protect any species that is endangered no matter what the cost? Or is some form of compromise necessary to fit the reality of a growing modern society?
* Which species should be saved first? Divide the class into groups and give each a list of 5-10 endangered plants and animals with photos and descriptions. Have each group prioritize its list to decide which species should be saved first and explain why to the class. An alternative activity would be to have the students BE endangered plants and animals and argue for their own survival. Thus, you would have wolves lobbying against whales. Each animal/plant should be prepared to defend why money should be spent to save it from extinction.
* What should be done to preserve wildlife on our public lands? An argument exists between conservationists (who want to conserve the land and its wildlife while also allowing for such human uses such hiking, biking, camping, fishing, etc.) and preservationists (who want to preserve and enjoy the land unchanged). Ask students whether they identify more with the view of preservationists or conservationists. Then have students debate the two positions, taking either the side they favor or its opposite.
* The takings issue is a huge part of the debate over the Endangered Species Act. The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution forbids the government from taking someone's property without just compensation. The question has been raised as to whether declaring a species and its habitat untouchable and thus limiting a private property owner's use of his/her land, is a taking of that land. A good topic to debate is what (if any) compensation should be given to private property owners in this situation.
4 A more involved classroom activity is to have students simulate an ESA debate within the context of a specific controversy and to build coalitions of supporters and opponents prepared to defend their positions. The case involved could be hypothetical, community-based, or based on an actual controversy involving the ESA such as those listed below.
* Snail Darter Case: The Tennessee Valley Authority was sued to stop the construction of a dam because it threatened the existence of a fish called the snail darter. This was the first case that brought attention to the ESA. See the Supreme Court ruling in T.V.A v. Hill, 437 U.S. 153 (1978).
* Spotted Owl Controversy: in the Pacific Northwest, the logging industry came head to head with the ESA when the forest service was sued to stop industry logging of certain old growth forests. This case study represents a fascinating example of the environment versus the economy.
* Re-introduction of Wolves: Recent years have seen wolves brought back to some of the habitats they used to occupy. This was done to restore the balance of nature and avoid overgrazing by elk and deer, but has led to resentment by some over fear the wolves would kill livestock
* Dusky Seaside Sparrow: This is the only one of the five examples where the animal in question is extinct. As NASA grew in the 1960s and '70s in Florida, the habitat for this bird gradually diminished. The full story of its demise is told beautifully in A Shadow and a Song by Mark Walters.
* Salmon Controversy: Should four dams on the Snake River in Idaho and Washington be breached to allow for several endangered species of salmon to navigate the river unimpeded? This is a current and unresolved controversy.
(1.) William Claiborne, "Marking a Victory for Eagle Rights," The Washington Post (July 3, 1999): A2; see also "Bird of Prey no Longer `Endangered,'" The Washington Post (August 20, 1999): A24.
(2.) Charles C. Mann and Mark L. Plummer, Noah's Choice: The Future of Endangered Speaks (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995), 8.
(3.) Craig Johnson, Section VII Coordinator for ESA, National Marine Fisheries Service, Interview by author (May 4, 2000, Silver Spring, MD).
(4.) David Quammen, The Song of the Dodo (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 605.
(5.) Mann and Plummer, 14.
(6.) Heather Weiner, Chairperson, Endangered Species Coalition, Interview by author (Feb. 28, 2000, Washington, D.C.).
(7.) David Quammen, The Song of the Dodo (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 347.
(8.) Quoted in "The Case for Saving Species," Defenders 70, no. 3 (Summer 1995): 20.
(9.) "God Squad" members are the secretaries of Agriculture, Interior, and the Army; the administators of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); the chairman of the Committee of Economic Advisors; and a representative of the state, appointed by the president after considering recommendations by the governor.
(10.) U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service homepage: www.cnie.org/nle/biodv-18.html (June 22, 2000).
(11.) John Fay, Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Interview by author (March 22, 2000, Arlington, VA).
(12.) Michelle Desiderio, Director of Air, Waste and Wildlife Policy, National Association of Homebuilders, Interview by author (February 28, 2000, Washington, D.C.).
(13.) Elizabeth Megginson, Chief Counsel, U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Resources, Interview by author (February 24, 2000, Washington, D.C.).
(14.) "The Truth about the Endangered Species Act," National Association of Homebuilders publication, n.d., 6.
(15.) Jacqueline Vaughn Switzer, Green Backlash: The History and Politics of Environmental Opposition in the U.S. (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1997), 222.
(16.) Ibid., 200.
(17.) Ibid., 269.
(18.) Mann and Plummer, 17.
(19.) Rep. Helen Chenoweth-Hage, U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Resources Hearing (February 2, 2000, Washington, D.C.).
(20.) Aldo Leopold, "Conservation," in Round River (New York: Oxford University Press, 1953).
(21.) Michael Bean, Senior Attorney and Wildlife Program Chair, Environmental Defense, Interview by author (August 24, 1999, Washington, D.C.).
(22.) Steven Lewis Yaffee, Prohibitive Policy: Implementing the Federal Endangered Speaks Act (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1982), 17-31.
(23.) Suzanne Winckler, "Stopgap Measures," The Atlantic Monthly 269, no. 1 (January 1992): 74.
(24.) John Kostyack, Counsel, National Wildlife Federation, Interview by author (March 28, 2000, Washington, D.C.).
(25.) Kim Walley Delfino, Staff Attorney, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Interview by author (February 1, 2000, Washington, D.C.).
(26.) Jason F. Shogren, ed., Private Properly and the Endangered Speaks Act (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1998), 71.
(29.) Juliet Eilperin, "GOP Environmental Riders Complicate Agency Funding," The Washington Post (September 27, 1999): A4.
(30.) Dan Morgan, "Election Casts Shadow Over GOP Appropriations," The Washington Post (July 29, 2000): A8.
(32.) Audrey Pritchard, State Program Specialist, The Nature Conservancy, Interview by author (February 15, 2000, Arlington, VA).
(33.) Yaffee, 87-88.
(34.) Mark Jerome Walters, A Shadow and a Song: the Struggle to Save an Endangered Speaks (Post Mills, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Co., 1992).
(35.) David Wilcove, The Condor's Shadow: The Loss and Recovery of Wildlife in America (New York: W. H. Freeman and Co., 1999), 161.
(37.) Switzer, 56.
(38.) Ibid., 125.
(39.) Ibid., 130.
(40.) Ibid., 135.
(41.) Ibid., 145.
(42.) Ibid., 2.
(43.) Ibid., 68.
(44.) Shogren, 119-120.
(46.) Yaffee, 74.
(47.) "Safe Harbor: Helping Landowners Help Endangered Species" [pamphlet] (Washington, DC: Environmental Defense, 1999.
(48.) Mann and Plummer, 227-231.
Bean, Michael J. and Melanie J. Rowland. The Evolution of National Wildlife Law, 3rd Ed. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1997.
Cawley, R. McGreggor. Federal Land, Western Anger: The Sagebrush Rebellion and Environmental Politics. Lawrence, KS: The University Press of Kansas, 1993.
DiSilvestro, Roger, L. The Endangered Kingdom: The Struggle to Save America's Wildlife. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 1989.
Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac. New York: Oxford University Press, 1966.
Moulton, Michael P. and James Sanderson. Wildlife Issues in a Changing World. Delray Beach, FL.: St. Lucie Press, 1997.
Stalcup, Brenda, ed. Endangered Species: Opposing Viewpoints. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, Inc. 1996.
Bean, Michael. "Endangered Species, Endangered Act." Environment 41, no. 1 (January/February 1999): 12-38.
Booth, William. "How to Protect Habitat." The Washington Post (July 4, 2000): A3.
Dinerstein, Eric and Karen Baragona. "Saving Cells is no Way to Save a Species." The Washington Post (May 28, 2000): B3.
Duncan, David James. "Salmon's Second Coming." Sierra (March/April 2000): 3041.
Hebert, H. Josef. "Endangered Species Act at 25: Praised, Despised as Conflicts Go On." The Washington Post (December 28, 1998): A14.
Kenworthy, Tom. "Choosing Between Fish and Hydropower." The Washington Post. (December 18, 1999): A3.
Kenworthy, Tom. "Threat to Snake River Dams Stirs Passions." The Washington Post. (September 12, 1999): A3.
Kenworthy, Tom. "U.S. Throws Life Preserver to Salmon." The Washington Post (March 17, 1999): A3.
Nelson, Deborah and Rick Weiss. "Land Exchange Program Hurts Public, GAO Says." The Washington Post (July 13, 2000): Al.
Nixon, Will. "The Species Only a Mother Could Love." The Amicus Journal 21, no. 2 (Summer 1999): 28-32.
Roberts, Paul. "The Sweet Hereafter." Hasper's Magazine 299, no. 1794 (November 1999): 54-68.
Sanchez, Rene. "Making the Northwest Less Pacific." The Washington Post (June 9, 1999): A3.
Sanchez, Rene. "In Calif., Birdies vs. Bighorns." The Washington Post (May 31, 2000): A1.
Schug, Mark C. and Jane S. Shaw. "The Economics of Saving Endangered Species: A Teaching Activity." Social Education 61, no. 6 (October 1997): 334-336.
Wilcove, David S., Michael J. Bean, Robert Bonnie, and Margaret McMillan. "Rebuilding the Ark: Toward a More Effective Endangered Species Act for Private Land." Washington, DC: Environmental Defense Fund, 1996.
Wilkinson, Todd. "Homes on the Range: Slowing Sprawl by Building on the `Radical Center.'" Nature Conservancy 50, no. 4 (July/ August 2000): 20-26.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) www.epa.gov/rgytgrnj/kids/fun.htm Offers environmental games for children.
Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) endangered.fws.gov
National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) www.nwr.noaa.gov/lsalmon/salmesa/index.htm Information about the Northwest salmon issue
National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) [COMPLETE]
U. S. House of Representatives, Resources Committee www.house.gov/resources
U. S. Senate, Environment and Public Works Committee www.senate.gov/~epw
Center for Environmental Education www.cee-ane.org/topics/index.html
Commercial Website for Endangered Species Preservation www.bagheera.com/lair.htm
Environmental Lesson Ideas www.thewildones.org/teachers/html
Environmental Links environment.tqn.com/newsissues/environment/ msubes.htm
Environmental Resources on the Net www.eelink.net/ee-linkintroduction.html
National Library for the Environment www.cnie.org/nle/crsbiodv.html
Teachers Resources Links www.selu.com/~bio/wildlife/links/index.html
Defenders of Wildlife www.defenders.org
Endangered Species Coalition www.stopextinction.erg
Environmental Defense www.environmentaldefense.org
National Audubon Society www.audubon.org
National Wildlife Federation www.nwf.org/nwf/index.html
The Nature Conservancy www.natureconservancy.org
World Wildlife Fund www.worldwildlife.org
Property Rights/ESA Reform Groups
Citizens for Property Rights hometown.aol.com/proprts/cppr/home.html
Competitive Enterprise Institute www.cei.org
Defenders of Property Rights www.yourpropertyrights.org
National Association for Homebuilders www.nahb.com
National ESA Reform Coalition www.nesarc.org
People for the West www.pwf.org
David Sahr is a government instructor at The National Cathedral School in Washington, D.C.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Environmental Politics and the Endangered Species Act. Contributors: Sahr, David - Author. Journal title: Social Education. Volume: 64. Issue: 7 Publication date: November 2000. Page number: 398. © 2008 National Council for the Social Studies. COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group.
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