April 11, 2013

Forty years of the Endangered Species Act: a time for reflection

By James S. Burling Vice President for Litigation

I published this op-ed in the Visalia-Times Delta this morning.  Here’s a snippet:

Enacted in 1973 under President Richard Nixon, the ESA authorizes federal officials to identify “endangered” and “threatened” species, and foster recovery through regulation. In one respect — the economic impact — the results are easily seen. Indeed, they can be calculated with sometimes painful specificity.

Recently, for example, farmers in the San Joaquin Valley have had to idle tens of thousands of acres because irrigation was cut back to help the 3-inch delta smelt.

In the Pacific Northwest, the timber industry has been decimated by the ESA listing of the spotted owl.

And in an iconic example stretching back to the early days of the law, completion of Tellico Dam in Tennessee was blocked for years. The Supreme Court held that the tiny snail darter’s interests must come first, because the ESA takes precedence, “whatever the cost.”

But if the law’s price in lost projects, property rights and productivity is real, its success in its intended purpose — saving species — is too often a matter of guesswork and inference.

Read the rest.

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