I was sent a column the other day by Benjamin M. Wiegold. His column focused on USA Endangered Species Acts and what he believed to be their dismal failure. In support of his premise, he wrote that there are currently over 9,000 plants and animals listed, considerably higher than the 78 species that were on the list when it came into being in 1978. Of the 78 species originally listed, 72 remain on the list. Two are recovered, 3 are extinct, and 1 removed due to data error.
Wiegold believed the primary problem with the legislation was its failure to recognize that the best way for a species to thrive was if there was economic incentive to use the plants and animals in trouble (often through private ownership). Without values that could be exploited for profit, society, by and large, didn’t seem to be too successful with respect to making sure a species in trouble made a turn around.
I agree that’s a big problem – in Ontario, caribou have been protected from licensed hunting since 1928, but populations have not recovered.
For whatever reason, many who want to see no further loss of species fail to grasp that hunting, or gathering or other activities which make use of the resource, can actually be the best way to ensure recovery of a species. It’s too bad, really, that hunters, with a conservation history that is by and large very successful, are more or less shunned by many environmental groups. Especially given that it was hunters, like President Roosevelt, who are largely credited with the creation of the US and Canadian National Parks systems. Hunters and hunting organizations have brought many species of wildlife (especially game species) back from the brink.
In addition to the economic arguments, another problem I have with endangered species legislation and reporting is that there is a considerable amount of dishonesty with both. For one, many, many ‘species’ listed are actually not a species at all – they may be a unique population, perhaps a sub-species, or a somewhat nebulous biological entity called an ecotype. What this means is that when a ‘species’ is listed, or worse, declared to be extinct, it often isn’t. The species, in fact, could be and often is, thriving.
For example, a lot of caribou in Canada and the US are on ‘the list’ as Threatened or Endangered. But that’s very misleading – all caribou and reindeer are the same species – which means caribou as a species is not at all in danger of extinction. In fact, in Canada, the number of caribou roughly equals the total, combined populations of moose, elk, mule deer and white-tailed deer.
I think listing has become a methodology for some environmentalists to cause undue alarm, but in the end, I think this is doing more harm than good.
At the very least, endangered species acts and regulations need serious re-examination. They sure don’t seem to be working.