A provision attached to Congress’ recent budget deal removed some wolves from the Endangered Species list. The gray wolf in the Northern Rockies became the first animal ever taken off of the endangered species list through legislation, rather than scientific review. Critics of The Endangered Species Act cheered the move, but some environmentalists worry it sets a dangerous precedent. When President Nixon signed the act into law in 1973, it had widespread, bipartisan support. But it’s never been without controversy. As part of our Environmental Outlook series, a look at the new debate over The Endangered Species Act.
- Rodger Schlickeisen President and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife
- Jonathan Adler Professor of law at Case Western Reserve University
- Andrew Revkin Writes the Dot Earth blog for The New York Times and is the Senior Fellow for Environmental Understanding at Pace University
- Rep. Steve Pearce Republican representative from New Mexico
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. When Congress created The Endangered Species Act in 1973, it did so with bipartisan support. But since then, the act has been controversial. Now there's renewed debate over Congress' decision to delist some wolves. It's the first time an animal has been delisted by an act of Congress rather than by scientific review.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me here in the studio to talk about the politics surrounding the act and its future, Rodger Schlickeisen, he's president of Defenders of Wildlife. Jonathan Adler is a law professor at Case Western Reserve University. Joining us from the NPR studios in New York is The New York Times' reporter Andrew Revkin. And we are going to take your calls throughout the hour. Do join us, 800-433-8850, send us your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, join us on Facebook or Twitter. And good morning to all of you.
MR. RODGER SCHLICKEISENGood morning.
MR. JONATHAN ADLERGood morning.
MR. ANDREW REVKINGood morning.
REHMAnd Andrew Revkin, I'm going to start with you. Talk about why lawmakers included wolves in the budget bill?
REVKINWell, it's very much about politics and about some pretty deep-rooted differences between constituencies related to how we conserve the wild parts of our landscapes. And this is -- the constituencies include hunters, obviously environmentalists and landowners and for decades, you've had this growing pressure and growing kind of stress in places where -- especially where there are predators. Predators seem special and how they kind of impede one interest over another. In some parts of the West, for example, the wolf issue is mainly about hunting. Hunters who would rather have access to the elk and they don't want the elk populations reduced by the wolves, so we're kind of like a competing predator. But when you put that in the realm of Washington, you end up with all kinds of subtexts.
REVKINAnd then the environmental standpoint, you have a bill that was such a strong tool when it was first created that, you know, really has very strong language. It requires many things to happen that you have the kind of conflict that you've seen erupt lately.
REHMAs I understand it, some 66 wolves were reintroduced to the Northern Rockies from Canada in the mid 1990s. How many are there now?
REVKINI haven't kept track of that specific number, but they're doing -- you know, they're doing well there because it's a niche that they have long inhabited it in great numbers and then in any area where you still have abundant game, you'll have wolves thriving. My own experience hearing one in the wild was way out in British Columbia where there's tons of wolves and tons of wildlife, things for them to eat and it's an amazing experience. But again, this will be a call that you'll hear more frequently now in places like the Rockies for sure.
REHMNow, as I understand it, Western lawmakers who backed the budget bill rider said the wolf issue was unique and merited special intervention. How come?
REVKINWell, again, it's this -- there's an assertion that the biology is such that there is an adequate number from their standpoint and they just feel that this is a strong case for a special action. Now, again, I'm sure you'll hear from others on the panel that this is one assertion, one interpretation. And then again, under the law, though, it's hard to see how this can play out unless this is -- what's led to this whole question about can we -- do we need some fundamental change in this law?
REHMAnd that is the voice of Andrew Revkin. He is a New York Times reporter. He joins us from the NPR studios in New York. Rodger Schlickeisen, tell us your reaction to Congress' behavior?
SCHLICKEISENWell, we and a lot of other conservationists around the country, we're extremely discouraged by it, to tell you the truth. It was threatened at the end of the last Congress and we were able to stop that. But we couldn't stop it in the new Congress with the shift in political forces in the Congress. We couldn't stop it.
REHMWhat's the reasoning behind this bill?
SCHLICKEISENWell, I think I have -- to answer your question, Diane, I think I have to go back a little bit. Unfortunately, the Obama administration contributed to this problem and it's really unfortunate to have to say that, but it's true. When the Obama administration came in, I was part of a group of CEOs that met with them at the White House and we were assured that the administration was going to follow science much more than the last administration had. And also that there wouldn't be any surprises. We were quite accustomed to -- in the conservation area, to the Bush administration on a Friday morning all of a sudden, springing some announcement on us that caught us by surprise and they assured us that there weren't going to be any surprises.
SCHLICKEISENBut that meeting was barely over by a matter of a few weeks when unfortunately, Secretary Salazar, on a Friday morning, announced without any warning to anybody or any consultation that he was approving the Bush plan for delisting wolves in the Northern Rockies. So we were surprised and the Bush plan depended upon an interpretation of The Endangered Species Act that, in fact, put politics above science. So just after we'd had these assurances, in fact, the secretary unfortunately did exactly the opposite.
REHMIn what way was politics put above science?
SCHLICKEISENWell, to be fair, the Obama administration inherited a very difficult situation with wolves in the Northern Rockies. And among the difficulties was one particularly where not all of the states, Wyoming in particular, had yet to produce a plan on how they would manage wolves once they were delisted. Well, that's a requirement of The Endangered Species Act, that before a species is delisted, the states have to have a plan for how they're going to keep them from going extinct again.
SCHLICKEISENSo they inherited this situation and the Bush administration's proposal had been to re-interpret The Endangered Species Act, which required that listing and delisting decisions be made on the basis of science and fundamentally decided that it would be okay to list and delist based upon political boundaries, in this case, state boundaries. When the Bush administration proposed this, a lot of people familiar with the law and with conservation kind of laughed it away, so we were especially surprised when Secretary Salazar came into office and in early March quickly approved that.
SCHLICKEISENAnd what he did was that he delisted wolves in the part of the Northern Rockies that didn't include Wyoming. And he decided that in Wyoming that they would allow wolves to continue to be listed. We, Defenders of Wildlife, and a number of our allies in the environmental community, really had no alternative but to sue them because we could not let that interpretation of The Endangered Species Act stand.
REHMRodger Schlickeisen, he's president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife. Turning to you, Jonathan Adler, does the fact that the Congress entered into this politically, does that set a new precedent?
ADLERWell, it does, but it doesn't. I mean, Congress, making the ultimate decision about what we should do to protect a given species, is certainly an appropriate thing for Congress to do. Congress is the legislative body. It should make that sort of policy. Congress doing so under the guise of telling us what the science is whether or not a species is in danger or not, that's really not the right way to do it.
ADLERAnd that highlights a problem that's unfortunately written into the act, which is the way we treat science under the act. Science can tell us whether a species is in danger, what sorts of threats face it, what its likely population trajectory is. Science doesn't tell us what we should do about it. It doesn't tell us what sorts of trade-offs we're willing to make. That's a policy judgment.
ADLERAnd unfortunately, what's been happening increasingly under The Endangered Species Act is that development groups and environmental groups wage their policy battles in a scientific arena. So in this case, Congress, wanting to provide relief for landowners and ranchers and certain groups in the West, rather than passing something saying, we as Congress think we should deregulate this area or impose fewer restrictions on activities that could affect wolves, instead said, we're going to declare the wolf not endangered.
ADLERWe're going change the scientific determination. And that blurring of science and policy is really a problem and it does set, I think, set a problematic precedent because the more we confuse scientific judgments with policy judgments, the more pressure we put on science and the more we undermine science's ability to inform the policy debates about what we should do for species.
REHMDid the numbers themselves have anything to do with the change in policy?
ADLERI think -- I think many members of Congress do believe that wolves are doing sufficiently better and that therefore they don't think it's worth investing the same regulatory resources in protecting wolves and certainly don't believe it's imposing the same burdens on ranchers or other folks in that part of the country. But the judgment they're making is still -- it's a normative policy judgment. What should we do? What burdens should we or should we not impose on various interest groups?
ADLERThat's not a scientific decision and I would be much more comfortable with what Congress did if they had been more direct about what it was they were doing which is deciding that the risks to the wolves have -- in that part of the country, have declined enough that they feel the regulatory measures can be relaxed as well because that's really what's going on.
REHMBut then what about Rodger's point as to how one protects the rest of the wolves out there?
ADLERWell, you know, I think -- I think that is certainly a challenging question and I think one of the reasons we see these sorts of fights under The Endangered Species Act is that the way the statute is written when certain scientific judgments are made certain regulatory measures are automatic and that reduces policy discretion and creates these conflicts.
REHMJonathan Adler, he's professor of law at Case Western Reserve University. Short break and right back.
REHMAnd joining us now by phone is Congressman Steve Pearce, Republican of New Mexico. Good morning to you, sir.
REP. STEVE PEARCEGood morning. How are you doing this morning?
REHMI'm fine, thank you. We've been talking thus far about the wolves, the gray wolves. But I want to ask you about the sand dune lizard. Tell me about that lizard.
PEARCEWell, it's a small three-inch lizard native habitat around the area I live, southeast New Mexico, which I've seen my whole life. I've kicked around the sand dunes my entire life and so very familiar with it. And it's at the center of a large debate in New Mexico whether or not it should be listed and then secondly, whether or not the listing will have adverse effect on the jobs of the area.
REHMOkay. And you opposed the federal listing...
REHM...as endangered. Tell me why.
PEARCEWell, there was a cooperative group working, oil and gas companies, land managers, agriculture and they had contributed about a million dollars. They were told by Fish and Wildlife Service, if you all work with us, we'd like to develop an alternative method to CCAs. And that's -- there's about a million dollars in the pot, we're working along well. Then received the petition to the Fish and Wildlife Service from the Centers for Biological Diversity that says, you got to list it and we can't have any of these alternative methods.
PEARCEAnd so the official wildlife service jumped through the hoop, said their going to list. Even the BLM said it was a slap in the face. Everyone at the table said, this is a slap in the face. We contributed on good faith and now then look what they're doing. And so we just feel like that the process was abused. Feel like that there is insubstantial proof. In other words, there is a cousin to the sand dune lizard that's not being listed. In order to differentiate, they say -- and I'm not sure even myself -- they say you have to roll the two lizards up and you have to count the number of scales on their belly or underneath their arm between the elbow and the shoulder.
PEARCEAnd so I said, I'd like to see the DNA, because I wonder are those actually different species or are they just the same difference between us as humans? My brother is taller than myself, weighs more than me. Would he be endangered when I'm not? I mean, that gets down to a very minute question that I'm not sure the science is even there to justify what's going on, so these things slow the process down. You gotta think about jobs. The official wildlife service, they absolutely don't have to think about jobs. I think that's what Americans are saying is that we can't manage the environment for just one species. We have to incorporate the threats to the human species.
REHMWell, if you would, tell me how listing of this particular sand dune lizard would have a detrimental impact on jobs in New Mexico?
PEARCESure. In the same fashion that it did the San Joaquin Valley, in other words, the delta smelt was listed there. Killed about 27,000 agriculture jobs and the same thing's going to happen here. It gives standing to people to bring lawsuits to say, oh, you can't do that. It might have entered the habitat. If there's just a working group then that standing in court is not as substantial. But then an actual circumstance that has already arisen is that oil and gas leases are typically for sale in our area. One was recently for sale, maybe even is for sale right now. But the 320-acre parcel was listed, was in the habitat and was suddenly withdrawn.
PEARCEThat's an example of a way that that area's not now going to be open for the typical jobs for our area. The major economy of southeast New Mexico is oil and gas. We're part of the Permian Basin. So those two approaches indicate to me that there's absolute potential and probability of job loss.
REHMBut Congressman Pearce, do you believe it’s right for the Congress to take into its own hands specific decisions about listing or delisting particular species or should it be up to scientists?
PEARCEWell, if the scientists were absolutely empirically working on it, then you could say, well, we have interested bystanders should take a look from the sidelines. But, for instance, this petition on the lizard, the pieces that were quoted in the science came from a report where pieces were not quoted. In other words, we had a presentation at the official wildlife service hearing last Thursday night. The guy was reading from the report that says absolutely no impact from oil and gas jobs on the lizard or its habitat. Well, you have people who will start to draw conclusions. For instance, they said that the lizard won't go across the road if there's a road there, so you can't have roads and you can't dig pipelines because they might not go across the area where the ground's been disturbed.
PEARCEI've been chasing them my whole life. There's never been any empirical evidence that I've seen and I don't think the scientists can establish it. They simply say it might be. So what you have with the agencies that are turning an eye to some science and opening the door to others. If you would -- I think we could scoot the question over, if you think, well, maybe that's a question we can't quite come to the conclusion, what is another question very similar where you can say the same thing?
PEARCELook at the wilderness study areas. The wilderness study areas were supposed to be set aside to be studied to be wilderness and they either qualified or they didn't qualify. The ones who didn't qualify 30 years later, 20 years later -- I don't know how long -- are still being managed as wilderness areas but they were bylaws supposed to be released. The agencies have a way of saying, we're above the law. We're not going to follow the law. The wilderness study area's a good example.
REHMAnd finally, to what extent do you support the Endangered Species Act overall?
PEARCEI support it 100 percent. I just don't think that we have to do it in an exclusive fashion that eliminates jobs. I think we should've kept the Delta smelt alive in holding ponds right next to the river and then we turn them loose into the river when we want them. I think the spotted owl should have sanctuaries, not the entire forest. The Lincoln National Forest near my home, a million acres, the entire thing, logging is shut down. Let's keep the spotted owl alive just to leave a thousand acres here, a thousand acres there, but support the concept completely.
PEARCEWe don't want to see a species go extinct, none of us. We're just saying that you're making our jobs go extinct when you make this very exclusive decision that all the water in the river belongs to the Delta smelt. The water in the river doesn't all belong to the Delta smelt. We, as humans, should have some standing and the effect on jobs should be considered. And yet right now, the Fish and Wildlife Service said, they did not do anything, no study about the impact on jobs. I know they didn't do that in the San Joaquin Valley and so now we're importing red stools sprayed with pesticides that we can't spray here because we kill the major vegetable producing area in the country.
REHMAll right. Congressman Steve Pearce. He is Republican from New Mexico. Thank you so much for joining us.
PEARCEThank you very much. I appreciate the conversation.
REHMThank you. Jonathan Adler, has this become an argument over jobs versus species?
ADLERI think it has and I think the conflict that the Congressman talked about perfectly illustrated the point I was making. The concern he has is the regulations that kick in once a species is listed. But the decision point that can affect whether or not those regulations get imposed is the listing process. So instead of having a discussion about what sorts of regulations we should or should not have about the lizard, we end up debating the listing process. And that's because once a species is listed all sorts of regulatory measures get kicked in automatically. And if the agencies try to exercise discretion, outside organizations can go to federal court to try and force their hand.
ADLERAnd so we have a statute that puts all this pressure on the listing decision when what we're really fighting about is the regulations and whether or not a certain species should or should not have certain regulations. And then the worst part of it is, is that listing a species by itself doesn't help. In fact, listing a species without devoting federal resources to its conservation has actually been shown to correlate with declines in species populations and decline in their status. And so we really have a statute that's forcing our attention and our debate in the wrong place. And it's not good for the concerns the Congressman talked about and it turns out it's not very good for species either.
SCHLICKEISENI'd like to comment on a few things that Congressman Pearce mentioned. His comments suggested that the Cooperative Conservation Agreements that were being entered into were going to be wasted. All of that effort and the money spent on them would be wasted if the Fish and Wildlife Service determined on the basis of science that the sand dune lizard should be listed. That's really not true. The nature of the Cooperative Conservation Agreements, CCAs as he called them, is that once those agreements are in place, even if a species is still listed after that, the agreements that were entered into between the Fish and Wildlife Service and the private landowner, or in this case the permittee, still hold. So that's not really -- that was kind of bogus. I'm not sure how he got that perspective on it.
SCHLICKEISENThe other thing, he gave the impression that if you have species listed on public lands, that then all of a sudden, they become wilderness areas and they're pristine and can't be touched. There are public lands throughout the west on which oil and gas drilling take place that have listed species on them. So it doesn't follow automatically that what happens from that is that the permittee is restricted from his undertakings. The other thing is that I'm pleased to hear Congressman Pearce say that he supports the Endangered Species Act. And many years of watching him in Congress, I've never seen him support any pro-endangered species legislation. And he has supported and authored a good deal of anti-endangered species legislation.
SCHLICKEISENBut the concept of the Endangered Species Act wasn't just to protect individual species. So for example, putting them in a little reserve or something like that so they wouldn't go extinct the concept actually included keeping the ecosystems, their habitat in which they exist healthy. That is part and parcel of the Endangered Species Act. And in the case of the sand dune lizard we're trying to keep that public land -- federal owned public land protected down there. And if we can't protect endangered species on federal public land I'm not sure where we will be able to protect them.
REHMAndrew Revkin, is there a sense that the entire Endangered Species Act is being undermined by virtue of not only the wolf provision but some of the other provisions that Congressman Pearce mentioned?
REVKINWell, my impression in writing about this for quite a while and just to clarify one thing, I shifted from being a reporter at The Times about a year ago to being a blogger. The Dot Earth blog is on the opinion side, so I can actually kind of offer some context.
REVKINThe -- this is a 20th Century fight in the 20th Century. It's a law that was created in a period when Richard Nixon and the bipartisan support in Congress saw the need for something that was quite glaring when people looked around their environments. And now when you look forward without some new way to find collaborative ways forward between landowners and these various groups, these fights will play out interminably in court and you'll see a steady erosion of the things that people will look back on later in the century and say, why did we let that go?
REVKINAnd actually Defenders has been very progressive in years passed with programs with livestock farmers, you know, to compensate them for lost sheep and that kind of thing. In other words, finding ways -- we could have this debate forever about the -- whether this law is being weakened. And actually, I think it's just become tactically -- it's still tactically convenient for environmental groups to litigate using this law, but strategically, I worry that they're going to lose -- we're going to lose a lot of things that they're fighting for in the long haul because of this -- it's just a bad fit.
REHMAndrew Revkin, he writes the Dot Earth blog for The New York Times. He's a Senior Fellow for the Environmental Understanding at Pace University. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We have many callers, but Rodger, I want to ask you about Interior Secretary Ken Salazar saying that he would accept this legislative solution to the status of the wolf. What was your reaction?
SCHLICKEISENWell, again, that was unfortunate we thought. As a cheap steward of our public lands and the endangered species we would've hoped that he would've stood up against that legislative action by the Congress. There were other solutions to this problem that didn't require legislation and...
SCHLICKEISEN...we were sorry to see that (unintelligible)...
REHM...surely the Congress does have the right to change these rules and regulations.
SCHLICKEISENThe Congress, of course, can legislate on anything it wants to. Well, what we're worried about, and I would guess that Andrew and Jonathan would agree with me, is that this particular instance may prove a precedent. It's very clear that if others start legislating because of political win or because their political supporters or campaign contributors have a problem with one particular species or science-based action that Fish and Wildlife Service is going to take and they're going to legislate that problem away, then The Endangered Species Act is going to unravel.
REHMAll right. I want to take a call here from Troy, Idaho. Good morning, Gary, you're on the air.
GARYGood morning, Diane.
GARYHello. I was wondering if Rodger or any of the other guests there could answer a question. I do represent one of the organizations that was a non-settling party to the litigation that led to the congressional delisting of wolves, so we had some differences with Rodger in that instance. But I was wondering if any of those people there could tell me if they think what the congressional action was legal in that Congress didn't actually amend the formerly Endangered Species Act that seems to be a separation of powers issue.
SCHLICKEISENAnd this is Rodger, Diane. I don't think that that's an issue. We have very good attorneys that look at this and I don't think that the Congress has overstepped its bounds. I think they made a mistake when they did it but I don't think it was a legal mistake.
REHMAll right. And here's an e-mail from Nancy who says, "Cannot the Fish and Wildlife Service or a nonprofit like Defenders of Wildlife sue the government in order to retain wolves on the Endangered Species List, especially when scientific data indicate they are still endangered?" Jonathan.
ADLERIn this case, I don't think there is a basis to sue to force the federal government to change its mind. If Congress wants to enact something that takes a specific species off the list they can do so. But certainly more generally, outside groups sue the Fish and Wildlife Service to get species listed all the time. And this is something that the Fish and Wildlife Service under both Republican and Democratic administrations has said is a problem because the bulk of the agency's budget for the listing process ends up being devoted to responding to court judgments and dealing with legal fights rather than being devoted to the scientific research and study that we would hope would inform the listing decision.
REHMWhat's changed since 1973, when the act was passed with bipartisan support, Jonathan?
ADLERI think one of the biggest things that's changed is that the act's been enforced and we've seen what it does both in terms of species conservation and in terms of the effects on private land owners and other groups. And we've seen this that is an act that’s very powerful in terms of its regulatory might, but hasn't been very effective. But -- so what's it's been much better at doing is creating conflict than it has been at conserving species.
REHMJonathan Adler, he's professor of law at Case Western Reserve. He teaches environmental law. More of your calls when we come back.
REHMAnd we're talking about the delisting of wolves, other creatures from the Environmental Species Act and here's an e-mail from John in Kalamazoo, Mich. who says, "Why do we humans, particularly Western, civilized humans, assume we have the right, nay, the duty to manage the natural world? How has it become acceptable to put jobs above the lives of other living creatures? Economy, such as ours, killed wild nature and jobs has become the excuse to justify it." Rodger.
SCHLICKEISENAw, thank you, Diane. Before I answer that, can I say one thing about Jonathan's comment? We can sue to re-protect wolves, but it's going to take several years. What I think that Jonathan meant was we can't sue right now to re-protect them. I just wanted to make sure people understood that. And also, when he says that the act hasn't been effective, I think what he's referring to is it hasn't recovered that many species. It has stopped a lot of species from going extinct. And in that regard, it's been extremely successful. I think only nine out of 1800 or so species have gone extinct since the Endangered Species Act was created.
SCHLICKEISENThe act, the Endangered Species Act, is regarded by many has perhaps one of our most moral laws, if you will. And it's moral from two perspectives. One is that it really says that it is our job as humans to protect other species of life on this planet. And there is no other law that really suggests anything quite like that and the courts have upheld that many, many times, that indeed it is superior to the idea that a job might be lost here or two or three or four or an area might be developed if it's -- if species (word?) or risked there, then the law takes precedent in this case and all up the way up through the Supreme Court, that has been upheld.
SCHLICKEISENIt's a matter of how many of us we are, your questioner asked the question about how -- what gives us the right to try to try to manage life on -- on other life forms on earth. We almost have no choice now, there are so many of us and there is so much development and there is so much nature devouring technology that for better or worse, humans are put in a position where they need to manage other life forms. The Endangered Species Act is our strongest law for allowing us to do that.
SCHLICKEISENThe other aspect on which the Endangered Species Act is a moral law is that we have had a very wide scientific consensus around the world for some decades now that right along with climate change, the loss of species and habitat, thus the loss of biological diversity, represents probably the biggest danger there is to future generations of humans. We have to deal with that. We have to try to curb that loss of habitat and species because it constitutes the web of life.
REHMAll right. Let's go to the phones. Ruth is in Northern, Ind. Good morning to you.
RUTHGood morning and thank you for taking my call.
RUTHWe are corn and soybean farmers in Northern, Ind. Formerly alfalfa, but no longer due to the facts that across our road is a 200 acre reserve. The whitetail deer have multiplied so much that they -- and remember who feeds those animals are your local farmers and ranchers. And I want to point out that we do have crop damage, which we can file for, but that's really not feasible. It's very difficult to estimate our crop, we have so many variables. And I just want to point out that thank your farmers and ranchers for feeding the wildlife. Thank you.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. Go ahead, Rodger.
SCHLICKEISEN(laugh) We -- farmers can be some of the best conservationists we have and we do appreciate them. You've got to have the working landscape helping to save species. It sounds like, to some degree, they -- the caller was saying that you have almost too many whitetail deer.
SCHLICKEISENOnly have facetiously, I would say, that what she could use is a few wolves around there (laugh).
REHMA few what?
REHMOh, wolves. Go ahead.
ADLERI think that Ruth also raises a very important point, which is if we don't save species on private land, we won't save many of them because the majority of those species that are listed as endangered or threatened rely up private land for habitat and yet, those endangered species on private land tend to more often than not be in declining status. And one of the reasons for that is that the act's not very effective at encouraging landowners to be better stewards. In fact, it actually penalized landowners who have been good stewards and I think that's one of the reasons why many people think the act is so problematic and why it's not working because it's not very effective at encouraging farmers and ranchers and other landowners at doing those things that can help species thrive.
REHMAndrew, do you want to comment on that?
REVKINI'd love to. Actually, the two questions together are part of a point that has to be considered increasingly going forward in this century. And this is, if you look at what the National Wildlife -- not Federation, what federal wildlife agencies are dealing with, what they have to work with, often, it's species of overabundance, increasingly as much as those that are under-abundant. And I've written about his, whether it's cormorants or deer, the changes to landscapes are happening not just be at the level that is about the things that are circling the drain already and their resources are being eaten up by that.
REVKINSo managing planet earth is -- essentially is, as you heard earlier, something that we have to get comfortable with and science is essentially providing indicators, but it doesn't tell us what they should part of that question is and that's where this has to be dealt with in a broader way. And I think looking at farms and developed landscapes and looking at oil and gas and how they can be meshed, perhaps, in places that are suitable with the wildlife values there is just something that has to happen, especially not just -- remember, the Endangered Species Act applies to species beyond our borders as well, which is really something, if we're not looking at that broad suite of issues, then we're missing a big thing.
REVKINI'll add one last thing. Pythons...
REVKIN...Burmese pythons, brought by pet owners to North America and then abandoned in Florida are now flourishing in the Everglades. They're probably the biggest threat to Everglades biodiversity that exists, but they're not the result of some development pressure, they're the result of lax handling and also lax regulation of things like moving pets around.
REHMHow do they get these -- how do they get these pythons in?
REVKINIt's just you buy them (laugh). In fact, there was no real restriction on this for the longest time.
REVKINThey're -- Florida is becoming this bazaar mesh of ecosystem. There're Monitor lizards...
REVKIN...thriving and some kinds of monkeys and so if you're not looking at Florida with that in mind as well, in that over-arching sense, you know, how can you work with existing laws, but also trying to develop values that understand that the whole -- the overall picture of this sort of human-meshed up ecology, then we're going to again see more regrets.
REHMAll right. To Athens, Ohio. Good morning, Hogan.
HOGANGood morning, Diane.
HOGANHow are you?
HOGANThanks for taking my call. I'm a big fan.
HOGANI'm a conservation scientist and I've done work both in the United States and in Africa on conservation issues and what I see from the Congressman's prospective earlier is that we've got Legislators that are in essence trying to pretend that they are scientists. They're deciding which species deserve to be saved and it's primarily a PR game when you're talking about wolves. If you have one sheep that's killed by wolves, suddenly you have a horde that's reinvaded an area and it's a huge issue. The Endangered Species Act is -- should be science informing Legislators who then make the human decision, but that's the disconnect that we have right now.
ADLERYeah, I mean, I think the caller makes an important point. The problem is that the act doesn't really allow us to do that. That is to say, once a species is listed, certain regulatory measures are triggered and the ability of outside groups to force additional regulation in court is automatic. So if the goal is to affect land use decisions, if the goal is to restrict private land use or restrict activities on federal land, the thing that people fight over is the listing of the species. And that trigger that's built into the act and that limits the discretion of policy makers means that everybody pretends to be a scientist, when what we're really having is a debate over policy about what sorts of measures should we adopt for what species.
REHMAre you saying that the act itself is the problem?
ADLERYes. I think the act is a problem. The act places hydraulic pressure on the listing process because the way you control land use, the way you control the regulatory process is by determining the listing outcome. And we've seen multiple administrations try and find ways of implementing the act in a more flexible manner and they really stretched the bounds of the act legally. They've done things that a lot of observers recognize are hard to square with the way the act's written and they're always contingent upon the threat of litigation because the act itself does not provide a lot of flexibility.
REHMAre you suggesting that the act needs to be thrown out and rewritten?
ADLERWell, I think it needs to be rebuilt. I think we need to say that we have close to 40 years of experience with this act and 40 years of trying to achieve this very important goal and we've learned a lot about what's more and what's less effective and in that close to 40 years, we've only recovered 20 of species out of the nearly 2,000 that have been listed. We know that on private land where most species are reliant, more species are doing worse and are declining than are improving. We know that as a current head of the Fish and Wildlife Service has noted, we have an act that creates incentives against conservation on private land.
ADLERWe shouldn't be fighting over the goal, we shouldn't be fighting over what the science is, we should be fighting over, are there better ways, are there ways of allowing more effective conservation strategies than an act that encourages litigation and conflict.
SCHLICKEISENI certainly agree and I'm sure a lot of other conservationists would agree with Jonathan, that the act could be strengthened and it could be made better to work better not only for species, but for all stakeholders kind of if you will on either side of this. I would hesitate to condemn it quite as much as he does because I do think it has been very successful, as I said earlier, in stopping extinctions. It couldn't do much more than that, given that it has been starved by politicians for funding.
SCHLICKEISENI was looking today just so that I would have the figure in mind. If you look at the federal budget and you ask the folks out there how much they would guess is spent on something like that, I'm sure they'd have some wildly inflated number, but I can tell you since I looked it up this morning that less than one-one hundredth of 1 percent of the federal budget goes to dealing with this problem of losing species and biodiversity, which is one of the most important intergenerational issues we have. So while we can do a better job and we should try to do a better job administratively and if the politics would ever allow it to do so Legislatively, I think we have a very strong act that if it was funded, could do an even better job that it's doing.
REHMAndrew, how do you see it?
REVKINI couldn't agree more. The question, of course, will be, when you get into the Legislative arena, how could you ever find that practical willingness among environmental groups, particularly to start to flex on something that's been such a powerful tool? And on the other side, how do you prevent, in our polarized politics, those who are really, you know, mainly in this for some particular interest in their district from focusing on that to the exclusion of those broad conservation values questions that you just heard about. I have a hard time thinking that that could actually work out.
REVKINOne reason I'm a communicator is I'm trying to also restore public sense of the value of wildlife, wild life, two words, one of the places in our environment that still sustain ecosystems that aren't built environments and some that are partially built environments. Getting people to care again will help make sure that there's a possibility of having more than one-one hundredth of 1 percent of the budget devoted to this and to having created new approaches.
REHMAndrew Revkin, he writes the Dot Earth blog for The New York Times and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go now to a caller in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Rebecca, you're on the air.
REBECCAHi. First, I just want to say how terrifying it was listening to Congressman Pearce once again economics and through the form of job loss being used to avoid doing what's morally right. It's -- you know, it seems to be a pattern now with our country. We've become so greedy and taken over by big interest groups, the big money groups and even if these morally bankrupt people looked at it form a self-serving point of view, how many times have we moved animals or not protected animals or plants and then found out later that is does end up affecting us.
REBECCAAnd I think that with the state of the world right now, we should be leaders and we have the ability to be leaders of protecting this planet. It's depressing and disheartening thinking about what my small child's children will be living with because of people that are bought and sold in this country.
ADLERYeah, I think something that we need to keep in mind in looking at the Endangered Species Act is that most species are imperiled because of habitat loss and why have we lost habitat? Well, because we've developed a lot of land. But who ends up bearing the costs when we impose regulations to protect those species that are endangered? Those that haven't developed their land. Those that haven't cut their trees, haven't cleared brush, haven't destroyed the habitat. Those are the people then bearing the cost. For the rest of us who live in our cities or who live in our suburbs live where their used to be habitat, we don't bear those costs.
ADLERAnd I think that's the thing that we need to keep in mind, that protecting species benefits all of us and it's certainly a public good. But the costs of protecting species are disproportionately imposed upon those that haven't enjoyed the benefits of development, haven't developed those lands and I think that should be very morally troubling and that we shouldn't be so quick to assume that those who haven't benefited from development in the same way are somehow immoral because they object to bearing costs that the rest of us really haven't had to bear.
REHMHere's an e-mail from Rob Sisson, who's president of Republicans for Environmental Protection, who says, "Congress' decision to remove the wolf form ESA protection is symptomatic of the move by Republicans in recent decades to ignore sound science and public policy to appease special interests. This is nowhere more evident than in Congress' refusal to address climate change and energy policy and order to pander to old line fossil fuel concerns at the expense of future generations of Americans, our lands, wildlife and new energy economy." Rodger.
SCHLICKEISENRob is doing a great job running Republicans for Environmental Protection and there is no question that we need conservation and environmental protection to once again become a bipartisan issue. It is so sad that it is moved away from that, but Bob is helpful.
REHMVery briefly, Jonathan Adler, how would you refine, improve the ESA?
ADLERI would do a couple of things. First thing I would do is decouple the scientific listing decision from the policy decision. We need to recognize science and forms policy, it doesn't dictate policy.
ADLERI think I'd also revisit the way we regulate private land and the way we impose costs on those that have been good stewards for the benefit of those us who've been bad stewards.
REHMJonathan Adler, professor of law at Case Western Reserve, Rodger Schlickeisen, he's president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, Andrew Revkin who writes the Dot Earth blog for The New York Times. Thank you all so much.
ADLERThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, I'm Diane Rehm.