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
  • ADOBE HOME
    Passive solar adobe home in high desert of central New Mexico. Located on a 10,000 acre cattle ranch.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Western Slope Conservation Center Paonia, CO WSCC seeks a dynamic leader who is mission-driven, hardworking and a creative problem-solver. Position Summary: The Executive Director leads...
  • ARIZONA STATE DIRECTOR
    A LITTLE ABOUT US Founded in 1951, the Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all...
  • CONSERVATION MANAGEMENT/HOSPITALITY SERVICES
    Seasoned ranch manager of award-winning conservation ranch seeking position as nature reserve/resort or ranch manager. Visit philipmoonwalker.com for resume and certifications. Contact: [email protected]
  • PART-TIME OREGON GRANT WRITER
    Help advance rights for people, communities, and nature - Part-time grant writer. The Oregon Community Rights Network (ORCRN) has been active over the last six...
  • UTAH PUBLIC LANDS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Job Title: Utah Public Lands Program Director Location: Southern Utah Position: Full Time (40 hours per week) Supervisor: Conservation Director About us: The Grand Canyon...
  • FSBO PROPERTY-SOUTHEAST ARIZONA
    Located in an area steeped in history, this gentleman's ranch sits at the entrance to the renowned Cave Creek Canyon. Enjoy picturesque views of the...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition, based in Ely, Nevada is looking for a new executive director to replace the long-time executive director who is retiring at...
  • LAND CONSERVATION PROJECT MANAGER
    JOIN OUR TEAM! The New Mexico Land Conservancy in Santa Fe is seeking a Land Conservation Project Manager who will work to protect land and...
  • HOME NEAR CAPITOL REEF NP
    Comfortable home at foot of Boulder Mountain, on one fenced acre. Amazing views!
  • STEVE HARRIS, EXPERIENCED PUBLIC LANDS/ENVIRONMENTAL ATTORNEY
    Comment Letters - Admin Appeals - Federal & State Litigation - FOIA -
  • LISA MACKEY PHOTOGRAPHY
    Fine Art Gicle Printing. Photo papers, fine art papers, canvas. Widths up to 44". Art printing by an artist.
  • LOG HOME IN THE GILA WILDERNESS
    Beautiful hand built log home in the heart of the Gila Wilderness on five acres. Please email for PDF of pictures and a full description.
  • NEW MEXICO PROPERTY - SILVER CITY
    20 acres, $80,000. Owner financing, well, driveway, fencing possible, very private, sensible covenants, broker owned. Contact - 575-534-7955 or [email protected]
  • SECLUDED COLORADO HIDEAWAY
    This passive solar home sits on 2 lots and offers an abundance of privacy and views while being only 15 minutes to downtown Buena Vista....
  • CARETAKER
    2.0 acre homestead needing year-round caretaker in NE Oregon. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • SEEKING PROPERTY FOR BISON HERD
    Seeking additional properties for a herd of 1,000 AUM minimum. Interested in partnering with landowners looking to engage in commercial and/or conservation bison ranching. Location...
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.