Endangered Species Act defender issues call to arms

  Dear HCN,

Thank you for publishing the edition covering the (endangered) Endangered Species Act, (HCN, 5/15/95). I work as a biologist, surveying and trying to mitigate detrimental effects to threatened, endangered, and sensitive species and their habitats. There is a great deal of misunderstanding concerning the effects of the act's enforcement, with people continuing to berate species for their audacity for existing. Elected officials need to be made aware of the many reasons for keeping the law intact, or better yet, strengthened.

I am writing to defend the Endangered Species Act. I am intimately familiar with it and the effect it has and has not had in areas which have seen the largest train wrecks from the act's enforcement. A major problem has been the continued failure to mention that the mismanagement of land is what created the problem, not the species being pushed to extinction.

When working in the Cascades of Oregon, I stood atop four-foot diameter stumps in 60-acre clearcuts, looking across canyons and seeing more clearcuts: half the forest was gone! The realization that there never would be another four-foot tree in those cuts because they will be harvested long before they reach that size broke my heart.

Many times I crossed what had been crystal-clear fish-spawning streams choked with sediment and slash below clearcuts, with buffer strips only a few trees wide. I watched Pacific yew trees go up in smoke during "brush disposal" operations, trees which are now threatened with extinction, and have been found to yield an effective drug used for cancer treatment.

While working in the Black Hills of South Dakota, one of the last large tracts of old-growth ponderosa pine forest came under attack because it wasn't producing elk and deer. But there were numerous other species that lived only there, under tall, closed canopies.

While in Montana, the winter after the Yellowstone fires, I heard great cries of anguish over losing forests in the park, while at the same time other public lands were being massively logged with little protest.

In Arizona where I work now, the majority of ridgetops once covered by clumps of mature ponderosa pines have been turned into "dog-hair thickets," ready to be destroyed by out-of-control wildfires, through decades of overlogging and fire suppression.

Only small remnants of mature forests, which took thousands of years to develop, remain across this beautiful American country: We've taken over 95 percent of them in 300 years. Is it any wonder that so many species are in danger of or threatened with extinction? Are we so willing to lose these species forever, without even knowing anything about them?

We are in the unfortunate position of living in a time when the bills of past human actions are coming due. Loggers are now paying the price of land managers over-estimating tree growth data, congressionally mandated minimal cuts, and the overcutting by their forefathers. Fishermen are paying the price of living with cheap hydro-power electricity. Blue collar workers are paying the price of corporate CEOs' continued effort to reduce the bottom line by moving to countries with cheap labor and no regulation. The healthy environment is paying the price of uncontrolled, unsustainable economic growth and runaway consumerism. We have a grave responsibility to look these bills in the face. We cannot continue to ignore the facts, and keep passing the buck on to the next generation.

We don't need other species because they are cute or nice or we like them. We, as have all species, evolved over time both physically and culturally rocked in the cradle of a healthy, diverse biosphere. Though many are loath to admit it, we are biological creatures subject to diseases, climatic fluctuations, ultraviolet radiation, and the like. God made us all, from soil microbes to Homo sapiens, and that was no mistake.

We have no idea of the myriad connections existing between ourselves and the rest of the biosphere. We do know, however, that the smoke alarm is the fading howl of the wolf, the diminished croaks of the disappearing amphibians worldwide, increased cancer rates, starving babies, and every polluted river flowing into the sea. Diverse biological systems can absorb many more perturbations than can monocultures. With each loss of a species, we as humans come closer and closer to experiencing first hand the blows which will no longer be absorbed by the diverse web of life.

To eviscerate the American home-grown Endangered Species Act, the only law of the land which has teeth strong enough to fight these problems, only passes the buck again. What is needed is for the act to be strengthened to include entire ecosystems, from the soil upon which it stands, the water which flows through it, to the birds which fly above, and everything in between. If we as a people fail to realize the enormity of the loss of biodiversity, we have failed as an intelligent species and are pushing ourselves toward extinction as well.

Make no mistake, this is urgent. Please contact at least one of the task force members: Chairman Richard Pombo, R-Calif.; Helen Chenoweth, R-Idaho; Wes Cooley, R-Ore.; Barbara Cubin, R-Wyo.; Calvin Dooley, D-Calif.; John Doolittle, R-Calif.; Eni Faleomavaega, D-American Samoa; Wayne Gilchrest, R-Md.; Richard (Doc) Hastings, R-Wash.; J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz.; Maurice Hinchey, D-New York; Jack Metcalf, R-Wash.; Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas; George Radanovitch, R-Calif.; Linda Smith, R-Wash.; Gerry Studds, D-Mass.; W.J. (Billy) Tauzin, D-La.; William Thornberry, R-Texas; or Bruce Vento, D-Minn. Committee members can be reached at the Endangered Species Act Task Force, U.S. House Resources Committee, Washington, D.C. 20515, U.S. House switchboard: 202/225-3121.

Lynn Sainsbury

Winslow, Arizona