How powerful is the Endangered Species Act in fact? That is a question that has left ample room for debate shortly after the law was enacted during the presidency of Richard Nixon.
A new study which can be consulted in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences tried to bring a new perspective on the strength of the Endangered Species Act. Worldwide, the Endangered Species Act is hailed as one of the most powerful regulatory frameworks working for the benefit of threatened and endangered species and their conservation.
Nonetheless, detractors of the law have formed two camps. On the one hand there are environmentalist groups and animal rights activist groups who believe the power of the Endangered Species Act is dented and it has no real bite.
On the other hand, industry groups, real estate developers and others are relentlessly arguing that the law is too powerful and meddling with their respective businesses. So, how powerful is the Endangered Species Act in fact?
The study used Section 7 of the law as a background for research. Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act stipulates the clear obligation of contractors to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Services in case their projects touch upon federal land and may pose a threat to the habitat of endangered or threatened species.
As clearcut as it may seem, Section 7 seems to hold more of a declarative power. While contractors do meet with either federal agency overseeing the respective federal land, there is a sort of invisibility cloak veiling the results. At least according to the findings of the recently published study.
Following consultations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must issue a biological opinion on the matter. Its content must reflect that the contractor’s plans do not jeopardize or inflict any harm to the critical habitat of a species, particularly an endangered or threatened one. Contrary, if the contractor’s plans do appear to cause any harm, they must be modified accordingly if the collaboration is to continue.
The study analyzed 88,290 consultations between contractors and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, conducted over the course of seven years. Of these, only one project was found to present a threat to the habitat of a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. With some alterations, the project went through even after the second plan was found to be just as jeopardizing.
According to the authors of the study, Jacob Malcom and Ya-Wei Li with the Defenders of Wildlife, the findings are at least surprising. How powerful is the Endangered Species Act in fact? It’s a matter of perspective. Their findings should at least calm the clamour of businesses attacking the Endangered Species Act for being anti-progressive and hurting profits while halting development and killing jobs.
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