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Rethinking the ESA to Reflect Human Dominion Over Nature

August 2010

Citation: ELR 10803

Author: Katrina Miriam Wyman

My basic critique of the Endangered Species Act (the ESA) is that it is built on an untenable premise that there is something natural--whether called species, ecosystems, or biodiversity--out there that we can save from humanity's reach. The Act's problems ultimately are rooted in a denial of the extent of human domination of nature and a failure to recognize our limited ability to halt and reverse the decline of species, ecosystems, and biodiversity given our pervasive impact on the planet. The ESA's mixed track record in helping species, the overburdened listing process, the poor targeting of the limited public funding for species recovery, and the debate about how much we are spending on species all reflect the triumph of human interests over the interests of species. The central contemporary challenge in protecting biodiversity is recognizing the vast scale of human impacts and the consequent need to prioritize our protection efforts given limited resources.

Today, policy-oriented scientists and legal academics who acknowledge our impact on the earth are discussing two main approaches for managing biodiversity: the ecosystem services paradigm and the biological hotspots paradigm. Both of these approaches offer ways of deciding which aspects of nature to protect, given the pervasiveness of human impacts on the earth and the limited funds available to safeguard biodiversity.

Katrina M. Wyman is a professor at New York University School of Law.

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