Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Call for Dialogue and Cooperation over Endangered-Species Even-Toned Book Seeks Middle Road between Science and Politics

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Call for Dialogue and Cooperation over Endangered-Species Even-Toned Book Seeks Middle Road between Science and Politics

Article excerpt

AS Congress wrangles over the future of the Endangered Species Act, all interested parties would do well to read "Noah's Choice: The Future of Endangered Species," by Charles Mann and Mark Plummer.

It is an excellent review of the goals and workings of the law, and it presents excellent ideas for balancing what likely will continue to be "an unavoidable clash among society's fundamental values." Most important, it does this in a way that is dispassionate, yet earnest and clear-headed.

When the United States in 1973 adopted what still is the most profound environmental-protection law in the world, it took on a challenge of Biblical proportions: how to distinguish from among millions of species those whose numbers are declining because of the acts of mankind, and how to save them from extinction.

Today, the Endangered Species Act is the subject of much controversy. The list of endangered and threatened species is longer than ever (1,512), the number of recovered species is pitifully small, the economic and social costs of saving what many feel to be insignificant plants and animals have been high, and the political outcry has been loud and shrill.

Mann and Plummer are neither scientists nor partisans, and this is to the reader's benefit.

In plain language (and with plenty of context and perspective), they take us through species definition, habitat, theories behind the cause and rate of extinction, and other biological details that could have become a muddle to the nonspecialist. With even-handedness, they present the assertions and difficulties of those in government and the private sector wrestling with enforcement.

What could have been a dry tract is made compelling by the stories of recent struggles over species preservation versus development: the Karner Blue butterfly in Albany, N.Y.; the whooping crane in Nebraska; the snail darter in Tennessee; the black-capped vireo in Austin, Texas.

One of their key points is that most species declines result from thousands of individual actions. …

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