The Endangered Species Act:
A Threat to the Economy and Christians Alike
By Sam Gouldthorpe
On December 23rd, 1973, President Richard Nixon signed The Endangered Species Act into effect. The act was written by a team of scientists consisting of Dr. Russell E. Train, Dr. Earl Baysinger, Dick Gutting, Dr. Gerald A. Bertrand. It empowered the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and was meant to protect and restore endangered species populations and their habitats. When the Act was voted on it passed 92-0 in the senate and 355-4 in the House of Representatives. Congress claimed the Act’s intention was to “halt and reverse the trend towards species extinction, whatever the cost.”
The Endangered Species Act has a very simple purpose: protect endangered creatures from extinction. Species on the list are either marked as endangered or threatened. Endangered creatures are protected and their habitats are designated “critical zones”. In critical zones there is absolutely no human influence, no private property or industry of any sorts. Once a species population and habitat are seen as restored or not in imminent peril then they will be delisted and no longer federally protected under the Endangered Species Act. There are 2,198 species listed as threatened or endangered currently, only 28 of which have been delisted and considered saved.
(Graph representing number of endangered species in the United States and the type of organism they are.)
However, the fight that United States Government unanimously started to save America’s dying species has since become a hotly debated topic. From the White House to small timber communities the North West, the Endangered Species Act has been contended often and even brought to court, two or the most famous incidents being Tennessee Valley Authority vs. Hill and Sweet Home Chapter Communities of Greater Oregon vs. Babbitt. Many politicians, eager to come to the aid of large energy companies, also jump on the band wagon, protesting the Act and suggesting it be changed or removed altogether. The bottom line is that many people believe The Endangered Species Act, however well intentioned, has failed and become a manipulative way for the government to control industries access to natural resources and even play god.
The first case in which the Endangered Species Act was taken to court came immediately after it was passed in 1973. After the discovery of an endangered snail darter fish in the Little Tennessee River, conservationist Hiram Hill immediately notified the Fish and Wildlife Service and filed a lawsuit against the Tennessee Valley Authority who were building the Tellico Dam.
He argued that the Snail Darter fish’s habitat would be critically damaged because of the dam construction. The Fish and Wildlife Service, after confirming that the fish was indeed endangered, took Hill’s case against the Tennessee Valley Authority to the Supreme Court. The defense of Tellico Dam argued that the federal government had already poured 100 million of the taxpayers dollars into the dam, as well as the construction had begun before the Endangered Species Act was even passed. Despite this the court ruled in favor of Hill with a 6-3 vote, deeming the dam a strict violation of the Act and the place where it was to be built a critical action zone. Though a victory for Hill and his fellow conservationists, the Tennessee Valley Authority felt as though they had lost a considerable amount for a fish with a lifespan of 4 years.
Another controversial case in which the Endangered Species Act was contended came in 1995 when various Oregon logging communities challenged the Act itself. In Oregon, many communities that had survived on the logging industry had been put under great stress with the introduction of new critical zones that protected the endangered Northern spotted owl.
The forests where the lumber industry had flourished and provided jobs for many people were now off limits because of a bird. The Sweet Home Chapter communities of Oregon, an assortment of timber companies that operated in the North West, were struggling because much of their workforce was unemployed. The timber companies, backed by many of the small town communities in northern Oregon and Washington that depended on the companies for employment, filed a lawsuit against the secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt. They decided to focus on the the definition of the word “harm” stated in section 9 of the Endangered Species Act. They claimed that the word harm was not defined, and that any indirect, unintentional harm done to animals as a result of industrial and commercial business should be exempt from the bill. With a 6-3 vote, the Sweet Home Chapter Communities of Greater Oregon were sent home unsuccessful and jobless.
The issue that keeps being reprised is that the Endangered Species Act does not take into account the human and business cost of preservation. In Hawai’i, Hunters and conservationists alike had to eradicate all feral game animals, like the mouflon and the spotted deer, from the state because having them there was supposedly putting the habitats of the native endangered species at risk.
The Act did not account for the thousands or millions of dollars it took to ship the game animals there in the first place. Just like in Oregon, where many logging companies went out of business leaving hundreds jobless after the Babbit vs. Sweet Home Communities case, or in Tennessee where 100 million dollars of the federal government’s income was “wasted” to save a fish.
The “Who” and the “Why”
Since 1973, numerous politicians, energy companies, religious, and even self-claiming “scientific” groups have popped up to speak out against the Endangered Species Act. The various reasons they do include claims that the Act has failed to save a sufficient amount of endangered species and gives the government too much power to play god.
Various energy companies, such as Chevron and Exxon Mobil, oppose the Act because it limits their access to natural resources held in critical zones. They are backed by many groups that believe industries should be able to flourish without any harsh federal regulations imposed upon them so that they can create jobs and “fix” the economy. These groups include the Western Energy Alliance, The Committee on Natural Resources, the Heartland Institute, CATO Institute and many more. These groups argue that with over 2000 species on the endangered list and only 28 saved, the Endangered Species Act has had an underwhelming 1% success rate in four decades. With a success rate that low, pro-industry groups claim that endangered species have just as much a chance of surviving with the act as they would without it.
Many politicians have also joined the large energy companies to oppose the Endangered Species Act. In 1995, Washington Republican, Slade Gorton, proposed a re-euthanization of the Act that would gut the protection of endangered species and give companies the ability to harvest natural resources in critical zones. Gorton received over 70 thousand dollars in direct donations from timber companies during this time. Recently other republicans have stepped forward to lead the charge against the endangered species Act. Doc Hastings, a congressman from Washington, plans on “fixing” the Act, to make land that is designated as critical zones more accessible. He claims the Act is “used to block and delay job-creating economic projects and activities”. Working to create a more industry friendly Endangered Species Act, Doc Hasting received 7,500 dollars in direct donations from Chevron, 8,700 dollars in direct donations from Weyerhaeuser Co., and $10,500 from Intel. He is often aided by fellow republican congressman from Oklahoma, Jim Inhofe, who argues that the “regulations under the Endangered Species Act have a low success rate in recovering species but are highly successful in stifling economic growth”. Inhofe has received a direct donations of 47,100 dollars from Exxon Mobil, a direct donation of 50,000 dollars from Chevron and a incredible direct donation of 101,150 dollars from the infamous Koch Brothers.
The energy companies are not alone in their support from politicians, they also gain support from many religious groups that feel the Endangered Species Act is playing God. Two of these groups, Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow and the Cornwall Alliance, claim they are “fighting the green dragon” that is environmentalism. They claim that the Government choosing which species should go extinct and which should not is a power only the divine should have. The Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow received 542,000 dollars in direct donations from Exxon Mobil and 60,500 dollars in direct donations from Chevron.
(Graph depicting contributions to political parties from major energy companies.)
Inside this sea of embezzled bandwagoner there are certain foundations like the World Wildlife Fund and the Defenders of Wildlife who suggest changes to the Endangered Species Act are necessary because, they claim, its strict consequences for having endangered species on private land causing many concerned landowners to take part in “shooting, shoveling and shutting up” or the 3-S treatment. The 3-S treatment is when landowners will kill and bury endangered species on their land for fear of a lawsuit or even stricter consequences that could be imposed upon them by the Fish and Wildlife Service. An estimated 80% of endangered species live or travel through private property, making it hard for landowners to avoid. This trend of secretly killing endangered species has led to what some claim is an almost reverse effect with more species being killed than being saved.
The Endangered Species Act still remains a strong piece of legislation within the United States Government despite the powerful opposition it faces. The president of the Fish and Wildlife Service. Dan M. Ashe and his associates face criticism from groups spanning religious, political and scientific views. Large oil companies, like Chevron and Exxon Mobil, search for constant loopholes in the bill, enlisting the help of politicians who supposedly believe in conservationism but not in the Endangered Species Act. In 1973, the act passed with nearly 100% unanimous support from both parties and energy groups alike. Today, the Act is subject to much criticisms and attack from those who seek to undermine it for a profit.