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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Cooperative Conservation?

I love rare birds, and was dismayed a couple months ago when the USFWS decided not to list the Gunnison Sage Grouse as an endangered species. If a bird with a tiny range and a population of only 5,000 individuals (in a good year) doesn't count as endangered, I don't know what does.

While the Endangered Species Act has some problems--most notably the government doesn't enforce it enough, there is a movement afoot to get rid of the Endangered Species Act as we know it. Called "cooperative conservation", this would make endangered species protection voluntary, rather than mandatory. While I'm all in favor of voluntary action, and decided against a career in environmental law because I'd rather encourage people to do the right thing, rather than suing them to do it, sometimes you need the stick to go along with the carrot, and taking the teeth out of the Endangered Species Act will not help any endangered or threatened bird. A "voluntary" Endangered Species Act would be about as effective as a voluntary sales tax.

So, why post this on PA Birds? Those within the federal government who would like to stir up support for gutting the Endangered Species Act are staging road shows all across the country to try and sell their ideas and make a show of support, and that show may be coming to a community near you sometime in the next couple of months. If you care about rare and threatened birds, find a session near you, mark your calendar and do what you have to in order to get to this meeting and make a public comment in support of a strong Endangered Species Act.

I know we'd all rather be out birding, but if we don't stand up for the birds when we get a chance, someday there just won't be as many of the cool birds we'd all really like to see. If birders won't stand up for rare birds, who will?

For more info on the public meetings, see:

For more info on this "cooperative conservation" movement, see:

More on these sessions from the Endangered Species Coalition (here).

While the website says that meeting attendance and commenting is first come, first served, and that speakers can only sign up at the session, word on the street is that there may be some dirty behind-the-scenes stuff going on to stack the speaker list in advance. So get there early, and if you aren't allowed to speak, let the world know about it.

There, I've said it. Now back to birding!


Anonymous said...

The ability of the government to restrict the use of private land is limited by the U.S. Constitution and by political reality. Even if the government WANTED to use the ESA to the fullest extent - the fullest extent is just not enough. Particularly in the western states, which are in a nearly constant state of rebellion against the federal government over (pick one: water, gas & oil development, grazing, forestry, recreation, forest roads - though oddly, they are turning out to be far more reluctant to allow new roads than the feds thought they'd be!, etc) the more effective route may in fact be cooperative conservation. Though I am quite sure that Eastern liberals would be just as fast to scream if told that they couldn't do whatever they wanted on private property. Never mind that it is a cynicaly ploy by this particular administration - to show that you can count on people to do the right thing, so you don't need that nasty old law. In the long run, it may actually prove to be a very effective tool to protect endangered species. Another western species - the Mountain Plover - was not listed, and a leading expert on the species said that not listing was a good thing...that they were getting excellent results from their work with farmers, who likely would stop talking to them if they had to deal with ESA restrictions such as incidental take permits.

You have to look at these issues with a broader perspective. This administration has less than two years to go (dear lord, make those two years fly by!). Cooperative conservation is not inherently a bad idea. It is just colored by the evil of this particular administration. Remember, even Bruce Babbitt admitted that the ESA has been problematic. We need a range of tools to protect species. The outcome is what matters.

birdchaser said...

I don't disagree that cooperative conservation is important. It is the crux of everything I'm doing right now. However, there has to be something stronger so that when cooperation fails, there are other recourses. Many of the innovative programs out there now are only there because states and other local governments are willinig to do a lot to avoid having to deal with the teeth of ESA. If those teeth were gone, so would be a lot of the incentive to avoid them.

So, cooperation yes. But with teeth if needed to back it up.

As for the West, I'm from the West so I know about all these issues, that go way beyond ESA. Cooperation is a good idea and can be a model for working together between federal and state authorities. But once again, a solid legal framework needs to be in place to give backbone to the relationship.

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