Thursday, May 22, 2003

Saving Endangered Species

I was intrigued by something I read yesterday about the Endangered Species Act, in the book The Red-cockaded Woodpecker by Richard N. Conner, D. Craig Rudolph, and Jeffrey R. Walters. In the spring of 1985 the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, and the Texas Committee on Natural Resources filed a lawsuit against the US Forest Service, which came to include charges that management of the National Forests was causing harm to the Red-cockaded woodpecker. The judge ruled in June 1988 in favor of the Sierra Club, and his ruling included a crucial new definition. He wrote that destruction of habitat constituted "taking" (harming or killing members of an endangered species), which was prohibited by the Endangered Species Act. That definition was appealed to the Supreme Court in a related case, and the Supreme Court upheld it in 1995. (More information) What a crucial difference that legal interpretation makes: protection must be given not only to the endangered species but also to the habitat it needs. That may seem obvious, but given the large habitat requirements of many endangered species it was revolutionary.

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