Myth vs. Reality
1/9/2000 -- -- Myth: The ESA considers protection of plants and animals above human needs and does not consider socio-economic impacts.
Reality: Far from ignoring social and economic concerns, the ESA explicitly requires balancing species protection with economic development when recovery plans for listed species are developed. Only in the decision to list a species does the ESA limit the consideration to biological factors alone. Rather than just denying a new project that may harm a protected species, the ESA requires the federal agencies to consider reasonable and prudent alternatives to allow the project to go forward.
Protecting a species through the ESA can have many positive socio-economic impacts, including tourism, recreation and quality of life benefits as well as the prospect of future pharmacological products from both plants and animals. The return of bald eagles to Maine--a direct result of the Endangered Species Act--provides important quality of life benefits for every Maine resident and visitor who has a chance to witness them. Since habitat protection and restoration for Atlantic salmon in Maine is a key component of a listing, all the plant and animal species sharing Maine salmon rivers and their riparian zones with Atlantic salmon will benefit from habitat protection of these waters. Since people utilize and enjoy many of these species, be they brook trout, moose, otter, osprey or deer, the socio-economic benefits of protecting these Atlantic salmon watersheds can be enormous.
The preservation of a healthy wild Atlantic salmon populations in Maine rivers could prove critical to the survival of Maine's aquaculture industry if future disease outbreaks or extensive domestication renders the industry's broodstock unusable. The Maine Dept. of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife discovered this several years ago when its hatchery broodstock of brook trout began to have reproductive and survival problems due to decades of domestication. To fix this, the State of Maine went back to the wild and captured hundreds of wild, native Maine brook trout to rebuild its brook trout hatchery broodstock. Had Maine allowed its wild gene pool of brook trout to go extinct, this would not have been possible.
Many people forget that the salmon used in Maine's aquaculture industry are all descended from fully wild populations in Maine, Canada and Europe. An important component of the domestic brood line for aquaculture salmon used in Maine was obtained directly from Maine's wild Atlantic salmon populations in the 1980s. Maine aquaculturists have stated publicly that domestic salmon originating from wild Maine salmon are important for the industry because of their ability to produce primarily large salmon instead of much smaller grilse. Since wild Maine Atlantic salmon are the prime donor stock for Atlantic salmon restoration efforts across New England, preservation of the remaining wild gene pool in Maine is critical to ongoing and future Atlantic salmon restoration efforts in the United States.
Myth: The ESA is bringing development across the country to a grinding halt.
Reality: Predictions of economic disaster resulting from endangered species conservation do not reflect reality. Of the more than 145,000 federal actions reviewed under the ESA between 1979 and 1992, only 69 projects were withdrawn or cancelled due to species conflicts. That's less than 0.05 percent of all the projects reviewed and an average of only two projects per year among an average 11,000 ESA consultations per year.
Myth: Listing decisions are often made on bad or biased science.
Reality: In 1995, the National Academy of Sciences was asked this question and responded: "This committee ... has not uncovered any major scientific issue that seriously hinders the implementation of the Act, although its review has suggested several scientific improvements. Many of the conflicts and disagreements about the ESA do not appear to be based on scientific issues. Instead, they appear to result because the Act -- in the committee's opinion designed as a safety net or act of last resort -- is called into play when other policies and management strategies or their failures, or human activities in general, have led to the endangerment of species and populations."
Myth: Protection of endangered species is an expensive luxury we cannot afford.
Reality:Extinction of species is something we cannot afford. During the 26 years since the ESA was created, relatively little money has been spent protecting endangered species in comparison to other federal budget priorities. For example, in 1992, the money provided to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to protect and recover endangered species throughout the United States was less than the cost of building 2.4 miles of an urban interstate highway.
Myth: The ESA is applied too extravagantly and often focuses on protecting subspecies and populations rather than full species.
Reality: Though in the vast majority of cases, the ESA is applied to full species, the protection of subspecies and populations, particularly for fish like salmon that exhibit strong homing instincts and adaptations to their natal rivers, is warranted. The 1995 review of the ESA by the National Academy of Sciences supported the protection of subspecies and distinct population segments of species, stating: "The ESA's emphasis on distinct population segments (i.e. the taxa below the rank of subspecies) is soundly based on science. The committee concludes that the ESA's inclusion of species and subspecies is soundly justified by current scientific knowledge and should be retained."
Myth: The Endangered Species Act is a failure because only a handful of species have recovered enough to the point of being removed from the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
Reality: The ESA has been remarkably successful. Like an emergency room, the ESA only handles cases were species are, by definition, in grave danger. The success of an emergency room can be measured by whether the patient's condition is stabilized or improved so that, with further care, recovery is possible. Using this measure, the ESA has been quite an effective safety net: under its protection, 36 percent of all threatened and endangered species listed in the United States are in stable or improving condition. Moreover, without the ESA, many species such as the red wolf, black-footed ferret, and the California condor might have already become extinct.
For the last 26 years, the Endangered Species Act has successfully protected our wildlife from extinction while striving to incorporate the needs of local people and economies into recovery efforts. From the more than two dozen salmon runs protected under the ESA in the Pacific Northwest to the bald eagles and short nose sturgeon in Maine, businesses have always learned to adapt and work with animals in desperate need of help.