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Is the Endangered Species Act effective?

From Correspondent Natalie Pawelski
Some of the animals affected by the Endangered Species Act  


December 22, 1998
Web posted at: 2:09 p.m. EST (1909 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Imagine American skies without the bald eagle -- the U.S. symbol -- the West without grizzly bears or the California coast without gray whales.

That's where many Americans believed the country was headed before Congress passed the Endangered Species Act, signed into law by President Richard Nixon 25 years ago.

Since then, there's no doubt that eagles, grizzly bears, gray whales and other animals are doing better. But can the law take credit?

There's disagreement.

"In the short time it's been around, the Endangered Species Act has helped save from extinction perhaps 1,000 species," said Rodger Schlickeise of Defenders of Wildlife, a nonprofit organization that focuses on conservation issues.

"The Endangered Species Act has been a dismal failure, and in 25 years the act has yet to bring a single species off the list into recovery," said Jonathan Adler of the The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a pro-market, public policy group committed to advancing the principles of free enterprise and limited government.

Support high for preservation

Over the years, protecting less charismatic species -- from the spotted owl to the Delhi Sands flower-loving fly -- has provoked rancorous debate. But in general, support for the Endangered Species Act has remained high.

"The American people love this law," said Brock Evans of the Endangered Species Coalition, dedicated to supporting the act. "By majorities of 75 or 80 percent, they want to protect species and don't want to consciously drive them to extinction."

Adler said that support of the act's goals is not the point.

"The question is not 'should we be trying to protect species or should we be trying to be sure that our environmental heritage is protected for our children?'" he said. "The question is 'are we doing a good job of it and are we using the right policies?'"

Over the past several years, Capitol Hill has seen a series of attacks on the Endangered Species Act. The most fierce debates center on individual rights -- those times when private property and endangered species collide.

"We've given the government a hammer and said 'go out and conserve wildlife with it,'" said Rob Gordon of the National Wilderness Institute, which bills itself as the "voice of reason on the environment." "And what they have a tendency to do is hit people."

As for the bottom line -- the government lists only 11 species out of 1,195 that have fully recovered from endangered status. -- and six of them don't even live in the United States.

On the other hand, the Endangered Species Act has changed the rules for changing the landscape. Saving animals has meant saving habitats -- and preserving forests and wetlands, beaches and deserts has meant preserving the face of America.

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