Chapter 2: Should Biodiversity Be Preserved?
Preserving Biodiversity: An Overview
When Congress passed the Endangered Species Act in 1973, it declared that endangered wildlife and plants are of “esthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational and scientific value.” Supporters of the law continue to stress the value of individual species. But critics complain that the benefits of protecting species are outweighed by the costs in actual spending, economic disruption and political discontent.
Biodiversity Is Valuable
Biologists write broadly about the benefits of biodiversity in both concrete and less tangible ways. “Biological diversity is the key to the maintenance of the world as we know it,” Edward O. Wilson, the celebrated Harvard entomologist, writes in his influential 1993 book The Diversity of Life.
In his book, The Value of Life, Stephen Kellert of Yale University identifies nine “values” served by biodiversity. Kellert begins with the “utilitarian” value of plants and animals for food, clothing, medicine and more. He then proceeds through less tangible benefits, such as the joy of exploring nature (“naturalistic”) and the pleasure of the physical splendor of nature (“aesthetic”).
The interest groups that work the endangered species issue in Washington concentrate on the most concrete of these benefits. They have recently emphasized the importance of rare plant species as a source of medicines. The most famous example is the rosy periwinkle of...
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Biodiversity Should Be Preserved
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) has produced a remarkable string of successes. In its history, it has stabilized or improved the conditions of hundreds of plant and animal species that had been in serious decline. In my own work, I have seen large numbers of concerned citizens work with the ESA to help bring about the recovery of the gray wolf in the Northern Rockies ecosystem. By educating communities about the importance of the wolf to the health of the ecosystem and using the ESA’s flexible provisions, we are successfully restoring this wonderful animal to the wild in a manner sensitive to local economic interests.
The gray wolf recovery effort is a model of how diverse groups of local citizens can work together to achieve results using the ESA. However, as a result of delaying tactics by narrow ranching interests, wolf recovery is taking too many years and is generating inordinate costs to the Federal taxpayer. Meanwhile, during the period of the wolf recovery effort, the recovery of numerous other listed species is being neglected.
Two Reasons to Protect the ESA
Certain regulated industry groups are now advocating that the ESA’s goal of protecting and recovering all of the Nation’s imperiled plant and animal species be abandoned and that the fate of each species be left to the discretion of the Secretaries of Interior and Commerce. Such an abandonment of the ESA’s goal would be unwise for at least two reasons. First,...
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Preserving Biodiversity Is a Jewish Obligation
Of all that the Holy Blessed One created in the world, God created nothing without a purpose. —The Talmud
The wondrous variety of living things is under assault. Precious ecosystems, including 50 percent of the wetlands in the continental United States and 90 percent of the lowland coniferous forests in the Pacific Northwest, are already gone. Species, too, are suffering unprecedented loss: Scientists estimate that from 5 to 20 percent of the tropical forest species will become extinct in the next 30 years. Stuart Pimm notes in the journal Science that current extinction rates are 100 to 1,000 times their prehuman levels.
Since everything is dependent on the continuing vitality of the biosphere, this threat to biological diversity not only threatens the human species but also diminishes the vast splendor of creation.
A Complex Interaction
A meaningful explanation of biodiversity is offered in The Encyclopedia of the Environment by Ruth and William Eblen: “Life reveals a marvelous propensity to increase its diversity with the passage of time. This diversity is responsible for a range of global functions necessary for human survival, such as the biochemical flows of energy (through photosynthesis), water, carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus, as well as providing a pool of genetic resources. Biodiversity offers other less utilitarian benefits as well—aesthetic (the beauty of so many living forms...
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Humans Should Not Be Indifferent Toward Other Species
It may come as a shock to many to find that our closest genetic relatives on the planet—the primates—are diminishing in numbers at an alarming rate. If we were to draw a graph tracking the evolution of primates over the past four million years, this decline would appear, in the last 1-percent of the time-line, as a free-fall.
Primates are by no means the only category of life going into free-fall. Mammals in general are in decline; birds are in decline; amphibians are in decline; freshwater fish are in decline; and now we find that reptiles are in decline too. And, in numbers of species, all of these categories together add up to only a small fraction of the Earth’s diminishing biodiversity. As Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson estimated a few years ago, thousands of species of smaller organisms are disappearing forever each year.
Indifference Toward Wildlife
Not everyone who learns of this collapse is shocked by it, however. Many are indifferent; they don’t see why it matters. And some are unapologetically hostile to any form of wildlife that interferes with human hegemony: witness the anger of U.S. ranchers toward coyotes, or of Zimbabwean farmers toward elephants, or of Japanese fruit growers toward monkeys. A few years ago, I spent some time in the Mojave Desert of California, where the Desert Tortoise is endangered. I learned that the single largest cause of tortoise death is bullets to the head, delivered by land owners...
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Efforts to Save Endangered Species Are Unfairly Criticized
Idaho Rep. Helen Chenoweth stepped up to the podium at the Wise Use Leadership Conference in Reno, Nev., in the summer of 1995 and charged the Endangered Species Act with a series of assaults:
Californians lost homes to the 1993 fire because they were not allowed to clear weeds where endangered kangaroo rats live.
Snails smaller than a pencil point caused bankers to withhold loans— bankrupting Idaho ranchers.
Children may soon be ripped to shreds when the grizzly bear is introduced in Idaho, a state, she claims, it has never lived in.
Chances are, the Republican’s audience of property-rights leaders had heard these stories before. The entire nation may know them since conservative Republicans have worked tirelessly to sell the American public on the idea that the Endangered Species Act declares war on private property.
Bills in Congress
“Debate over the ESA has been fueled by anecdotes more than anything else in Congress,” says Pam Eaton of the Wilderness Society, “and Republicans have successfully captured the debate.” Proof of their success: A bill introduced by Reps. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., and Don Young, R-Ark., to eviscerate endangered species protection may come soon to the House floor. It would shield private property owners and pay them if environmental regulations decreased their property value. [The bill did not reach the House floor.]
Even though the bill has...
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Attempting to Save Every Species Is Expensive and Impractical
When President Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act in 1973, he inadvertently codified Aldo Leopold’s stylish but stupid aphorism, “To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.” Should we lament the extinction of smallpox, or expand the ESA to protect unique life forms such as various viruses for future generations? Before we “Save the fungus among us!” as Gary Larson once quipped, we might want to reconsider what we are already trying to save—and, more importantly, how we are going about it.
As of May 1997, the ESA protects 33 species of insect. While most Americans might not think twice about stepping on a bug, the federal penalty if the bug turns out to be a rare one can amount to $200,000 in fines and one year in jail. And the same goes for modifying the habitat of such a species—even if the critters in question do not actually live on the land in question. In short, the ESA authorizes the Federal Government to prohibit anything that might encroach on or disturb species that are classified as “threatened” or “endangered.”
Consider the case of the Delhi sands flower-loving fly, featured in an NBC Nightly News report on “The Fleecing of America.” This fly is a native of the Colton Dunes in California’s San Bernardino and Riverside Counties. It is known to live on less than 200 acres, all but 10 of which are privately owned....
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Belief in Biodiversity Is Dangerous
First, the news: The Endangered Species juggernaut continues to roll. On Sept. 12, 1994, the National Marine Fisheries Service announced it would consider declaring as endangered “all salmon and anadromous [i.e., sea-run] trout populations in Washington, Oregon and California.” Three days later, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed four species of fairy shrimp in California’s Central Valley as endangered.
Now the question: What is the historical significance of these events? We already know the Endangered Species Act is a scientific fraud and economic calamity. It is designed to maintain a balance of nature that never existed. It pursues the impossible dream of halting evolution. Its partisans say it promotes “biodiversity,” but they won’t define the term. It spreads unemployment and costs the country billions.
The Perceived Power of Genes
But it is also another sign that dangerous notions of biological determinism are in vogue. Time magazine avers that marital infidelity “may be in our genes.” The courts increasingly favor dysfunctional natural parents over loving adoptive ones; feminists argue that gender taints everything from scholarship to social behavior. And according to the September 1994 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, the once-taboo idea that heredity controls behavior is back in style.
Indeed, this fascination with genetic imperatives is largely a product of America’s...
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Attempts to Preserve Species Endanger Human Safety and Property
In the spring of 1997, as in the previous few years, major flooding around the U.S. has demonstrated that while man is given stewardship over the vast and varied earth God has created, he is nonetheless at the mercy of the elements when conditions grow extreme. While man is required to plan and implement strategies for managing his land resources—and does so with remarkable ingenuity and efficiency—on occasion those strategies prove inadequate to the terrible forces of nature.
Witness the devastating floods which have wrought untold sorrow, death, and destruction on those living in the Red River Valley of North Dakota. The flood, the type which experts say hits a given area perhaps once every 500 years, defied flood control systems that had been put in place over the years, causing an estimated $1 billion in damages. While there is some proof that flood-control programs in the most devastated areas were not as aggressive as they might have been (at the time of the flood Grand Forks was in the planning phase of a $40 million project to complete its partial levee system), experts agree that North Dakota’s “Flood of ’97” would have defied even man’s most conscientious efforts to reject its fury.
The Prevention of Flood-Control Projects
Unfortunately, some of the spring flooding in recent years has been exacerbated by environmental regulations which have delayed or eliminated necessary flood-control measures. In...
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Environmentalists Overstate the Importance of Certain Species
One morning in January 1994, Arvid Enghaugen, a resident of the Norwegian coastal town of Gressvik, found his whaling boat sitting unusually deep in the water. When he climbed aboard to investigate, he found that the ship was in fact sinking; someone had opened its sea cock and padlocked the engine-room door. After breaking the lock, Enghaugen discovered that the engine was underwater. He also found a calling card from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a small, California-based environmentalist group that specializes in direct actions against whalers. Counting Enghaugen’s boat, Sea Shepherd has sunk or damaged eleven Norwegian, Icelandic, Spanish, and Portuguese vessels since 1979.
Greenpeace Versus Whalers
The boat was repaired in time for the 1994 whaling season, but Enghaugen’s problems weren’t over. On July 1, 1994, while he was looking for whales off the Danish coast, five Greenpeace protesters boarded the ship from an inflatable dinghy and tried to take its harpoon cannon. Enghaugen’s crew tossed one protester into the sea, and the rest then jumped overboard; the protesters were picked up by the dinghy and returned to the Greenpeace mother ship.
A week later, after Enghaugen’s boat shot a harpoon into a whale, a team from another Greenpeace vessel cut the harpoon line to free the wounded animal. A group again tried to board the whaler, and the crew again threw them off. Enghaugen cut a hole in one of the...
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