On Aug. 19, the Daily News published an opinion piece by Paula Easley, a board member of the Resource Development Council, complaining about the right of Americans to petition the government to ensure that environmental laws are enforced.
When the federal government abdicates its responsibilities or ignores laws instated to protect the health of the nation -- the people, land, water and endangered species -- the public must step up to make sure these laws are enforced. The government should not be above the law and the public should not be shut out because of a few special interests and their ties to politicians.
I am the executive director of one of the excellent organizations singled out for reprimand -- the Center for Biological Diversity. The center uses activism, science and the law to protect endangered wildlife and plants and their habitats. One of those laws is the Endangered Species Act, America's safety net for wildlife, fish and plants on the brink of extinction.
The Endangered Species Act is one of America's greatest environmental achievements. It was passed by a nearly unanimous Congress and signed into law over 30 years ago by President Nixon as a commitment by the United States not to lose another plant or animal to extinction. The Endangered Species Act has been extremely successful: 99 percent of all species protected under the Endangered Species Act are still alive today. The vast majority have stabilized or increased since being listed and protected under the law. This law has been instrumental in bringing back from the brink of extinction American treasures such as the gray wolf, the whooping crane, the California condor, and the green sea turtle.
However, the current administration has refused to protect a single species of plant or animal except under direct pressure from citizens or conservation organizations. Often that involves making the case to a federal court that the administration is failing to carry out its duty, as defined in the Endangered Species Act and other federal laws, to protect America's natural heritage, and very, very often, the courts agree.
The Bush administration and its allies like to blame these court orders for their failure to implement the protections for endangered species, claiming that all of their resources are being tied up in fighting the lawsuits. That is an insulting twisting of logic. Indeed, it is only direct pressure by citizens and conservation organizations that induces the administration to implement any protections at all. Americans refuse to sit back and offer no resistance as the Bush administration sits with lobbyists and watches wildlife go extinct.
That is not an option. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to act as stewards of the environment and leave a legacy of caring for all of America's wildlife and the special places they call home.
Michael Finkelstein is the executive director for the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, AZ