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Comment on <em>Rethinking the ESA to Reflect Human Dominion Over Nature</em>

August 2010

Citation: ELR 10809

Author: Wm. Robert Irvin

Above my desk at work, I keep a button that reads "Save the Ugly Animals Too." It is a reminder that more than just the charismatic megafauna, such as wolves and bald eagles and grizzly bears and whales, are worth conserving. From the standpoint of protecting the web of life, including the ecosystems that benefit us all by providing services such as water purification, flood control, nurseries for our fish and shellfish, and opportunities for outdoor recreation, it is often as important to conserve the lesser known species, the cogs and wheels that drive those ecosystems.

The commitment to conserve threatened and endangered species, and the ecosystems upon which they depend, is the grand promise of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Enacted in 1973, the ESA has done a remarkable job of saving from extinction charismatic and "ugly animals" alike. In doing so, it has engendered enormous controversy at times, such as the debate in the mid-1970's over the snail darter and the Tellico Dam, the battles in the 1980's and early 1990's over the northern spotted owl and logging of old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest, and the current flare-up over the Delta smelt and water for California's Central Valley farmers. Despite these controversies, the ESA has endured, testifying both to the value Americans place on preventing extinction and the flexibility of the ESA.

Wm. Robert Irvin is Senior Vice President for Conservation Programs at Defenders of Wildlife. He is a contributor to and coeditor, with Donald C. Baur, of Endangered Species Act: Law, Policy, and Perspectives (American Bar Assn. 2d ed. 2010).

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