I apologize to all, as I have not been able to post in quite some time. Getting used to the “new normal,” it seems as though I will have a lot more time on my hands in which to provide you all with some content on here. As many of you may know, I am currently a law student. I have found a passion in studying the law and how it relates to the world around us. Luckily, environmental law exists, and is something that I enjoy further researching through my posts to you.
Though my prior posts have been very primitive in legal nature, this one (perhaps) delves more in to the hard-letter law surrounding this issue. I, as usual, welcome any comments and feedback on this topic, should you want to provide any to the forum. All posts are open for comment.
The Endangered Species Act, as many may know, was drafted in large part to protect our national bird from extinction. Circa 1966, the bald eagle’s population had drastically decreased due to hunting, habitat loss, and the excessive use of DDT. For those that may not know, DDT is a toxic pesticide. This occurrence motivated Congress to pass the Endangered Species Preservation Act. This predecessor to the law that we have today required the United States Departments of the Interior, Agriculture, and Defense to protect listed species and their habitats. This laid the groundwork for the current Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA).
Though many use the terms synonymously, there is a distinct difference between being “endangered” and being “threatened” under the Act. A species is endangered when it is in danger of becoming extinct throughout all or within a significant portion of its range. It is deemed threatened when it is considered at risk of becoming endangered at some point in the future.
What many may not understand about the ESA is that it does not list species as a whole. It lists them in population sectors. Therefore, though a species may be endangered on, say, the East coast, it may not be the same in other parts of the country.
Species are listed in one of two ways: by biologists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or by public petition. So, if you believe a species to be threatened, take action! Anyone can submit a written petition, and the government must notify the individual within 90 days as to whether the species warrants further research. This further research must be completed within one calendar year.
The Act also lists things like “critical habitat.” In cases such as the snail darter, once a species is considered threatened or endangered, the habitat in which it resides cannot be massively destroyed or altered to the point that the species may further dwindle.
A major reason that this Act works is because of its implementation of recovery plans. Recovery plans provide, according to the Act itself, that the Secretary must incorporate:
- A description of such site-specific management actions as may be necessary to achieve the plan’s goal for the conservation and survival of the species;
- Objective, measurable criteria which, when met, would result in a determination, in accordance with the provisions of the section that would result in the removal of the species from the list; and
- Estimates of the time required and the cost to carry out those measures needed to achieve the plan’s goal and to achieve intermediate steps towards the goal.
Aside from all of the legal terminology, the basic gist of a recover plan is to “recover” the species. The objective is to get the species’ population back to where it is supposed to be, and the Secretary must outline specific steps in doing so. Should these steps be followed, the species should be eventually delisted.
99% of the species granted protection under the Act have managed to survive today. Many have survived enough to be delisted, and are no longer in danger. Until today, case law has allowed for recovery plans to be drafted at the government’s pace. There is no time constraint on the drafting of recovery plans.
Though this notion may make sense in the grand scheme of things, as the government wishes to acquire as many facts and as much information on species as possible, it is difficult, at least for me, to wrap my head around not at all giving the government a time limit within which these plans need to be drafted.
The numbers simply do not lie. Recovery plans help to save species. Sure, listing the species is a step in the right direction. However, if it takes ten years to form a recovery plan, the species could continue to die off. In the case of the polar bear, should a recovery plan take twenty years to form, there is no telling how much habitat is going to be harmed and, thus, what portion of the species is going to not survive to see the recovery plan’s action.
Recovery plans are drafted on a priority basis. However, in the case of the scalloped hammerhead shark, the first shark to be listed as endangered, the listing took effect in 2014. There is still no recovery plan in place for this species, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s website as of today. So, how much weight can a plan carry when it does not exist? How effective can the rebound of a species be, should there be no specific avenue of recovery in place?
Though some may not seem like pressing issues, any listed species is equally important. From the snail darter to the polar bear, any species is important and and integral part of the habitat and ecosystem that it calls home. Therefore, without some sense of urgency in recovery plans, it is difficult for me to see how each species gets equal consideration and protection. Though this is not a Constitutional issue, and animals are not afforded Equal Protection under the law, it could still be said that a remote plant species is just as important as the Grizzly bear.
Listing a species may help, but developing a recovery plan in a swift manner could help the species more. By setting a limit on when these plans need to be in place, the species does not have to hope that their mere listing will allow them to recover. Rather, there will be specific, outlined, steps being taken in prompt fashion.
I encourage everyone’s feedback. If you have not already, subscribe to get updates when I post! I hope, in the coming weeks, to post more and start to inform everyone of the mechanics and statutes in place, as well as the same content of general issues that I have formerly posted. I hope everyone is faring well in this time of national transition and time of struggle; stay safe!