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Endangered Species: Creatures cannot survive without habitat

Published September 27, 2005 12:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2005, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

According to the chairman of the House Resources Committee, it's not the eagles, owls, minnows and lizards that stand in the way of development, profits and the paving of North America. No, indeed.

It's just all those troublesome forests, rivers, prairies and deserts that the little critters insist on living in that stand in the way of the new Manifest Destiny.

Thus the chairman, California Republican Richard Pombo, has crafted a major rewrite of the 32-year-old cornerstone of American environmentalism, the Endangered Species Act. It purports to call upon the federal government to come up with "species recovery plans" for identified flora and fauna while making it much, much easier for developers to have their way with the lands that those very species live on, under and above.

Good politician that he is, Pombo makes his bill, already rammed through his committee and referred to the full House, sound like a workable compromise, the kind that might lead to the rescue of more endangered species without all those nasty and expensive lawsuits.

The only problem is, it cannot work.

Anyone who tries to come up with a species recovery plan that doesn't begin and end with the preservation of natural habitat for that species to live in is attempting something that has never worked and can never work.

Unless Pombo's idea of "species recovery" means something more akin to reupholstery.

Humans have long tried to exist as though they are apart from the natural world. And, except when a hurricane or two come along to challenge our hubris, we've actually gotten pretty good at maintaining the illusion.

But other species aren't such good fakers. They do not simply exist in their ecosystems, they are part of them. Animals and plants fill specific niches in each environment - prey, predator, scavenger - all dependent on one another and upon the ecosystem as a whole for mutual survival.

The disappearance of one or more specific species is not the cause of ecosystem decline, but an alarming symptom of it. It's a canary in the coal mine to warn those who worry about the ability of the whole environment to support everything from hairy echidna to human beings that something is seriously out of whack.

But not as seriously out of whack as our natural world would be under Pombo's proposed legislation.