The difficulties of cohabitation

  • Paul Larmer

 

Way back in 1973, when I was a pimply middle schooler living in a Chicago suburb, President Richard M. Nixon signed into law a bill that embodied America’s noblest conservation intentions. The Endangered Species Act set an amazingly ambitious goal: to conserve all of the imperiled plant and animal species in the country.

The act’s authors were fully aware that Americans would have to change their behavior in order to accomplish this goal. They acknowledged that "various species of fish, wildlife and plants … have been rendered extinct as a consequence of economic growth and development untempered by adequate concern and conservation."

But I wonder if they could have foreseen the magnitude of the growth and development we face today. Back in 1973, for example, Nevada had a population of just over 500,000 souls. Today, there are 2.4 million, with demographers predicting another 2 million by 2030. Arizona had 2.1 million people in 1973; today, it is bursting with 5.9 million, and is expected to top 10 million by 2030. This scenario plays out to various degrees throughout the West.

Protecting endangered species and their habitats in an economy tied to population growth — well, conflicts are bound to erupt. So it comes as no surprise that some of our lawmakers — particularly those like California Rep. Richard Pombo, R, who are superglued to the growth machine — want to weaken the Endangered Species Act.

As Tony Davis writes in this issue’s cover story, the crux of the matter is the portion of the law that calls for protecting "critical habitat" for endangered species. A good case can be made that the critical habitat designation process has already broken down under constant political pressure and a steady stream of lawsuits. But broken or not, it still serves an important function: It forces us to think about endangered species in a concrete way. We have to look at the maps, and study the habitat, and consider the consequences of the decisions we make. We have to consider how much land it takes to keep wild creatures alive.

Some of those who are eager to gut the critical habitat provision frankly have no desire to cohabit with thriving wild flora and fauna. To them, aquariums and zoos are just as good as rivers and wildlands — better, in fact, because they don’t compete for habitat with homebuilders and loggers and ranchers. But the Endangered Species Act’s authors valued authentically wild creatures living in native habitat. They wanted their law to "provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species depend may be conserved."

That has never been an easy task, and it’s going to keep getting harder. The odds are long that this country can keep its ecosystems intact and healthy while making room for another 80 million or so human beings. We will undoubtedly lose some irreplaceable species, but that is no reason not to try to save what we can. It is no reason to weaken one of the only laws that makes us look at how the way we live affects the other creatures on this planet.

High Country News Classifieds
  • LAND AND WATER CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    The Land and Water Conservation Director is a full-time salaried position with the Mountain Area Land Trust in Evergreen, CO. The successful candidate will have...
  • ARIZONA PROGRAM MANAGER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks an Arizona Program Manager. The Arizona Program Manager works...
  • CROWN OF THE CONTINENT COMMUNITY CONSERVATION SPECIALIST
    THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY is seeking a Community Conservation Specialist, for the Crown of the Continent DEPARTMENT: Conservation CLASSIFICATION: Grade 6 Specialist/Representative (Low of $54K) REPORTS...
  • ASSISTANT FARM DIRECTOR
    About The Organization Building community through fresh vegetables is at the heart of the Sisters-based non-profit, Seed to Table Oregon. Based on a four-acre diversified...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, Hike the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • DYNAMIC EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    VARD is seeking an Executive Director to lead a small legal & planning staff dedicated to the health and sustainability of Teton Valley Idaho and...
  • WATER PROJECT MANAGER, UPPER SAN PEDRO (ARIZONA)
    Based in Tucson or Sierra Vista, AZ., the Upper San Pedro Project Manager develops, manages, and advances freshwater conservation programs, plans, and methods focusing on...
  • CAMPAIGNS DIRECTOR
    Southeast Alaska Conservation is hiring. Visit https://www.seacc.org/about/hiring for info. 907-586-6942 [email protected]
  • FINANCE & GRANTS MANAGER
    The Blackfoot Challenge, located in Ovando, MT, seeks a self-motivated, detail-oriented individual to conduct bookkeeping, financial analysis and reporting, and grant oversight and management. Competitive...
  • WADE LAKE CABINS, CAMERON MT
    A once in a lifetime opportunity to live and run a business on the shore of one of the most beautiful lakes in SW Montana....
  • CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, BOOKS, CULTURE AND COMMENTARY (PART-TIME, CONTRACT)
    High Country News is seeking a Contributing Editor for Books, Culture and Commentary to assign and edit inquisitive, inspiring, and thought-provoking content for HCN in...
  • STATEWIDE COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    ABOUT US Better Wyoming is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization that educates, organizes, and mobilizes Wyoming residents on behalf of statewide change. Learn more at...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    TwispWorks is a 501(c)3 that promotes economic and cultural vitality in the mountainous Methow Valley, the eastern gateway to North Cascades National Park in Washington...
  • CLEAN ENERGY ADVOCATE OR DIRECTOR
    Location: Helena, Montana Type: Permanent, full time after 1-year probationary period. Reports to: Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs. Travel: Some overnight travel, both in-state...
  • PROFESSIONAL GIS SERVICES
    Custom Geospatial Solutions is available for all of your GIS needs. Affordable, flexible and accurate data visualization and analysis for any sized project.
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Restore Hetch Hetchy, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization, seeks experienced development professional to identify and engage individuals and institutions who are inspired to help underwrite...
  • PUBLIC LANDS COUNSEL
    The successful candidate will be the organization's lead counsel on public lands issues, including reviewing federal administrative actions and proposed policy and helping to shape...
  • GUIDE TO WESTERN NATIONAL MONUMENTS
    NEW BOOK showcases 70 national monuments across the western United States. Use "Guide10" for 10% off at cmcpress.org
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!