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The main reasons why the endangered species act (ESA) act should be strengthened in United States are the act is the only piece of legislation that is responsible for the protection of flora and fauna and their habitat in addition to their genetic diversity (Easton, 2009).
Secondly, the ESA is a clear and uncomplicated act that provides a concise approach to achieve its goals when there is adequate funding and the will to do the same. Thirdly, the ESA offers the flexibility required to resolve conflicts arising out of diverse interests. Moreover, the act serves as a good example of endangered species protection for the rest of the world.
It offers protection of endangered species, which is a public good and therefore contributes to the betterment of the social welfare. Even thou many species have disappeared despite the adoption of the act, the rate of disappearance has been checked, otherwise more species would have disappeared by now.
This paper argues that the problem of the endangered species act does not lie in the weakness of the act but in its implementation mainly hampered by inadequate funding. More funds need to be appropriated for implementing the act with a special recognition of the economic cost that private landowners encounter in their efforts to comply with the act.
Arguments for strengthening the ESA
The ESA seeks to control the four main factors responsible for the demise of endangered species. These are overexploitation, destruction of habitat, invasion of alien species because of their introduction into same localities with endangered species and disease spread mostly by the alien species. In addition, pollution is also a major cause for extinction of species (Cunningham & Cunningham, 2007).
According to O’Connell (1992) the endangered species act (ESA) has had numerous controversies surrounding it because of its ineffective implementation. The ESA was enacted in 1973 and was a product of successive environmental statues that were realized out of the increasing scientific expertise on biological diversity.
Since the enactment of the ESA in 1973, the scientific knowledge available has expanded. The act went much into protecting the environment that the endangered species depended on, thus it became more of a protection of biodiversity.
This approach has since been proved to fail as scientific progress outpaces political progress. There is increasing scientific evidence pointing to the necessity of having a complete ecosystem-based approach. This is informed by recent discoveries in conservation biology and biodiversity.
Another area of the act that needs to be strengthened is the metapopulation provision. Scientific evidence qualifies that it is inappropriate to let the loss of populations continue until only the population of the endangered species remain.
Loss of populations can jeopardize the survival of a listed species and therefore the crucial role, played by the mechanism of metapopulations need to be protected. Furthermore, the individual populations can be separately listed in the act.
Wilcove et.al. (1998) discuss that it is true that humanity is in the process of extirpating a notable size of the earth’s species composition. The magnitude of human enterprise is the reflective of the rate at which at which the destruction of biodiversity and the extinction of species occurs. The loss of habitat forms the most significant threat to endangered species closely followed by the invasion of alien species.
The significant role that habitat loss plays in the imperilment of species undoubtedly links their protection to the control of human population growth.
Most of the listed species in the act are located at few clustered areas of the United States and its unfortunate that the same areas are projected to have the highest population growth rate. This signifies a future of increased conflict of divergent views concerning the protection of the imperiled species habitat.
Strengthening of the act should not only come from the legislative side, there is an increased need to counter the efforts of industry stakeholders who wish to weaken the implementation of the act for their economic gains.
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Scientists need to plunge headlong into the political process to develop a political sophistication necessary for the proper analysis and defense against the arguments of industrialists.
Arguments against strengthening the ESA
While it seems viable that strengthening the ESA will save more endangered species from extinction, the changing types of threats call for a new approach that goes beyond the act. The ESA mainly focuses on human activity that explicitly interferes with the biodiversity in the habitats of the imperiled species.
However, there are other threats that are not easily controllable with an act, given their magnitude and nature. For example, the threat that climate change possesses on the diversity of habitats is global and cannot be controlled by the act.
Climate change will affect a broad array of endangered species and for plants that have a narrow range and weak dispersal abilities, an act cannot be the solution to ensuring their survival.
Global warming has been mentioned as one of the cause of climate change and it is partly because of pollution on a global scale. A single act in the U.S. is not well suited to tackle a global problem.
During the formulation of the act, climate change was not a significant threat, and therefore the act was comprehensive it its jurisdiction and effectiveness. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said now, as threats to the endangered species assume a global perspective.
A proper way to tackle such threats as climate change and global pollution should involve a much wider approach than the act itself. The focus should not be on increasing the strength of the act but on enacting other acts and pursuing international agreements that guarantee proper conduct of all countries responsible.
The regulation and the official interpretation of the act play a major role on how the ESA is implemented. The nature of implementation of the ESA is subject to Political pressures that incorporate varied interest.
For example, there is a tendency of Congress to consider high-profile species more than low-profile species and that is reflected in their appropriation of funds for the relevant conservation programs.
The other problem of the ESA of 1973 is the unclear definition of the threshold for recovery. This failure also resulted from political interest and is not reflective of a poor legislation. The act lacks explicit biological benchmarks for determining the degree of recovery necessary. Therefore, actual recovery of a biodiversity is difficult to define.
This omission perhaps is meant to allow the act to be flexible in accommodation the various natures of biodiversity supporting different endangered species.
The appropriate threshold of a the probability of a species survival is completely a political question and attempts to make it biologically optimum from a scientific point of view is futile.
With the current political environment is seems appropriate that a line is drawn to pursue a general objective. This can be to improve significantly the survival probability of species as the general objective while specific objectives are determined based on each case and its uniqueness.
The main opposition of the act comes from industry stakeholders who feel that the jurisdiction of the act in some way curtails their threshold of economic resources that they can exploit.
To have their way, they finance meetings to formulate and push for amendments on the halls of Congress heightening the political pressures facing the act and its implementation. Although, conservationists and other stakeholders are pushing for the strengthening of the act, this push for the allocation of adequate tasks is becoming an uphill task.
The impression created therefore is that of an act weak to support itself that needs strengthening. This view is erroneous and adds to the zeal of those wishing to discredit the act because it gives them further reasons to claim that the act is not functional.
The ESA requires that the habitat of the listed species be protected and does not cater for the protection of the habitats. Therefore, even though private landowners are mandated with the protection in cases where listed species are located within their properties, the legislation does not give the landowners a mechanism to obtain funding to be directed at conservation measures.
The U.S. needs to have more incentives directed at the protection of habitats. Human activity needs to be controlled; however, the control should be implicit to avoid backlashes and more resistance. The most convincing approach to protect habitat through control of human enterprise lies in the provision of incentives.
The ESA is a prohibitive policy and the most comprehensive of all environmental laws. The problem of the act as lies in the allocation of the costs of preserving the biodiversity of listed species. It is true that benefits accrues to the whole nation, however the bulk of the costs are covered by private landowners.
Ninety per cent of the listed plants are found on private land. The main storm surrounding the act is that the political view aims at sustaining the public good of protecting the listed animals while private stakeholders are expressing their dissatisfaction with the high costs of complying with the act.
The enacted of the act left out the economic perspective in 1973, and that has turned out to be a thorn in its implementation (Brown & Shogren, 1998).
Amendments of the act in 1978 recognized the realities of incentives for private economic costs and on the social tradeoffs; however the conflict regarding the magnitude of the tradeoffs has derailed the authorization of the implementation. Congress has become the battleground for tradeoffs with bill to strengthen and bill to weaken the act putting more attention to the needs of business and landowners.
Since listing renders land habiting the listed species unfit for other economic development, landowners are keen to destroy the habitat before any listing happens and this has resulted in the destruction of habitats that the act was supposed to protect (Brown & Shogren, 1998).
The major cause of the failures in the implementation of the ESA is inadequate funding. Congress has continually appropriated inadequate funds towards proper and extensive implementation of the act. The shortcoming of the ESA is in lumping up the importance of all species.
Species with greater economic importance are listed with similar importance as those species with little economic importance. As such, the recovery efforts show little regard for marginal benefits in relation to the costs as well as ecological-economical interactions.
When this problem is viewed in relation to the inadequate funding for the implementation of the act then the reader agrees that even an implicit set up of priorities is impossible with a strengthening of the act.
Brown, G., & Shogren. (1998). Economics of endengered species act. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 12(3), 3-20.
Cunningham, W. P., & Cunningham, M. A. (2007). Principles of Environmental Science (5th ed.). London: McGraw-Hill.
Easton, T. A. (2009). Taking Sides: Clashing views on Environmental Issues (13 ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
O’Connell, M. (1992). Response to: “Six Biological Reasons Why the Endangered Species Act Doesn’t Work and What to Do About It”. Conservation Biology, 6(1), 140-143.
Wilcove, D. S., David, R., Dubow, J., Phillips, A., & Losos, E. (1998). Quantifying Threats to Imperiled Species in the United States. BioScience, 48(8), 607-615.