Two Views of 'Endangered Species Day'

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:22 PM EDT

( - By proclamation of the U.S. Senate, May 11 is the first-ever "Endangered Species Day." While some are celebrating America's "commitment to protecting and recovering endangered species," a conservative group calls this a perfect time to "end the perverse incentives that pit property owners against wildlife."

The Endangered Species Coalition -- which describes itself as the guardian of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 -- says the goal of this day is simple: " to educate people about the importance of protecting our rare, threatened, and endangered animal and plant species."

Today, schools, libraries, museums, zoos and other organizations will "educate the public about the importance of protecting endangered species and highlight the everyday actions that individuals and groups can take to help protect our nation's wildlife, fish and plants," the coalition said in a press release.

The group is urging Americans to "provide habitat for wildlife in your backyard"; write a letter to the editor about protecting endangered species (a sample is offered); thank lawmakers for supporting the Endangered Species Day resolution; sign a pledge to support the Endangered Species Act; and take a field trip to a local park, zoo or other endangered species habitat or event in your community.

"With over 1,800 species worldwide now listed as threatened and endangered, and thousands more threatened with extinction unless they are protected, every such public education effort is greatly needed," the coalition said.

Protecting property owners

Wait a minute, says the National Center for Policy Analysis, which believes that "bureaucratic wrangling" prompted by the Endangered Species Act has endangered both animals and people.

CPA Senior Fellow H. Sterling Burnett says private property owners should be provided with an incentive to "create, enhance and improve habitat for endangered species," since 75 percent of those endangered species depend either entirely or in part on private property owners for their habitat requirements.

"The best solution is for property owners to be compensated when the government imposes restrictions to preserve species, just as they would if the land were taken for any other public purpose," Burnett said.

The NCPA noted that since its inception, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) has had a marginal success rate despite its large price tag.

According to NCPA, landowners and taxpayers have spent the equivalent of $3.5 billion annually in ESA-related activities; and fewer than 6 percent of the 1,800-plus species listed as endangered or threatened under the ESA have been removed from the list.

"Most of the delisted species were removed only because they were already extinct or were wrongly listed in the first place," the NCPA said.

Burnett also said flawed science has caused some species to be listed as endangered when they weren't; and it has led to habitat-protection requirements that did more harm than good.

"Even if we get the science right, the ESA won't be improved if it doesn't provide people with positive incentives to promote species recovery," Burnett said. "It is important to create conditions under which both species at risk and people can benefit."

The NCPA is a think tank that "advocates private solutions to public policy problems."

ESA reform

Signed into law 30 years ago by President Nixon, the ESA was intended to protect and restore species identified as threatened or endangered.

Last September, amid complaints that the law was prompting more litigation than species recovery, the House of Representatives passed a bill to update and modernize the law.

The Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act (TESRA) of 2005, sponsored by Reps. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) and Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.), is intended to put the focus back on species recovery, protect private property owners, and eliminate "dysfunctional critical habitat designations," the sponsors said.

The Senate has not yet acted on the bill.

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