Academic journal article Forum for Applied Research and Public Policy

Third Rock

Academic journal article Forum for Applied Research and Public Policy

Third Rock

Article excerpt

In 2003, NASA plans to launch not one, but two more Mars Rovers to search for evidence of surface water, and a hint of past life, amid the geological rubble of the fourth rock from the sun. Meanwhile, back on Earth, researchers armed with nets and traps laboriously document the incredible diversity of terrestrial life before it disappears.

Given the apparent abundance of life forms on earth, what does it matter if one more species--the ivory-billed woodpecker, say, or the Tecopa pupfish, both victims of habitat loss--is lost to the cumulative actions of modern humans? After all, as Doug Shedd notes, more than 99 percent of all species that ever existed on Earth are extinct today. Lest we forget, it took almost 2 billion years for life on Earth to evolve to its current rich diversity.

Until modern times, catastrophic extinctions have been attributed to dramatic natural events, such as the meteorite that doomed the dinosaurs. Today, a species in decline can succumb to a careless bulldozer, says David R. Given.

In April 2000, a small group of leading botanical scientists met in the Canary Islands and issued a warning that during the 21st century, two-thirds of the world's plant species will be in danger of extinction. They also penned a declaration calling for a global strategy to promote plant conservation on local, regional, and international levels.

The Endangered Species Act of 1973 represented a giant step forward for conservation in the United States. Yet the act has become one of the more controversial environmental laws on the books. Property owners have seen an erosion of their rights to do as they please with their land, and yet they receive no financial incentives from the federal government to conserve prime habitat. Some foresters and developers are conducting preemptive strikes by destroying habitat before anyone finds an endangered species on their land, says Dean Lueck. …

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