Opinion / Voice of the Times / ADN / December 11, 2005
An Alaska scientist is tracking the national impact of the Endangered Species Act and reports it isn't good.
Dr. Matthew Cronin of the University of Alaska's Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station says in an article in Range Magazine that the act has been used by environmentalists and some federal biologists to protect creatures that are not species.
"How can they list the grizzly, wolf, and lynx in the northern Rockies when there are thousands of them in Canada and Alaska?" he asked. "How can they list salmon in the Columbia and other Pacific Northwest rivers when there are millions of them around the Pacific Ocean. Why did they list the northern spotted owl as a species when there are also California spotted owls and Mexican spotted owls?"
The Endangered Species Act is currently up for renewal in Congress and is hopefully headed for some much-needed revision. Leading the charge for ESA reform is Rep. Richard Pombo, a California rancher and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. Pombo is an ally of Rep. Don Young and frequently has shown himself to be a friend of Alaska.
Cronin says the problem is that the ESA defines species as "species, subspecies, and distinct population segments." That means it can be applied to groups as small as a single pod of beluga whales in Cook Inlet or Prince William Sound.
The biggest problem in the Lower 48, the one that has Pombo and his friends up in arms, is that the law has frequently been used to block landowners from using their property and they have not been compensated for the economic losses that result.
Critics who like the law and the power it gives them are screaming, naturally. They argue, says the magazine Southwest Farm Press, that rewriting the law would cripple it and "punch loopholes in the law on behalf of greedy developers, oil companies and other special interests."
But since it was passed in 1973, the law has only saved 10 of the 1,300 or so species on its list. The dilemma was described several years ago by a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Washington who said, "The long and short of it is that we are faced with a flood of wildlife litigation. We have no resources left to list any new species."
He likened it to working in an emergency room and having no choice about who to operate on first. "Whoever runs to the courthouse first gets their species taken care of. So we end up working on hangnails instead of heart attacks."
Alaska's problems with the Endangered Species Act have been relatively small compared to those in many parts of the Lower 48. Let's hope good sense prevails - and that jurisdiction over subspecies and population groups is assigned to state and regional governments.
The act is a loose cannon, a serious threat that could do a lot more damage if not rewritten.
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