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The coming battle over the Endangered Species Act

November 10, 2017

Thomas Lovejoy

The move by Rep. Bob Butler (R-Utah) to invalidate the 1973 Endangered Species Act is “myopic,” George Mason University professor and world-renowned ecologist Thomas Lovejoy said, and will lead not only to extinction of species but the loss of a critical barometer of environmental health.

“The reality is biological resources are what we depend on more than anything,” Lovejoy said, “and all the wonderful things we can do with physical resources matter not a damn unless biological support is there. What the Endangered Species Act is about is ecosystems in which species becoming endangered is the signal that the ecosystem and its services are being undermined.”

According to the Washington Post, Butler’s proposal would force the federal government to consider the economic impact of saving a species rather than making a purely scientific call. It would require the government to defer to data collected by the state, and citizens and conservations groups also would be stripped of the right to file court claims if government protections fall short.

“More of the same,” said George Mason professor Lee Talbot, one of the Endangered Species Act’s original authors. “In the last session of Congress, over 130 attempts to gut the act got beaten back by very dedicated work by Defenders of Wildlife and a series of other NGOs. The difference this time is the president is on their side completely, and that’s bad.”

Lee Talbot

Butler said he objects to the act, which lists more than 2,000 species as endangered, because it has never been used for the rehabilitation of species but to control the land, the Post reported.

“It’s pretty myopic,” Lovejoy said. “It’s trying to make an issue out of something which is about the state of biodiversity in the United States and turning it into a property rights issue, which it doesn’t have to be. It’s a tactic that revels in making light of obscurely named species, or trying to wave a red flag in front of a bull about someone’s property rights being taken away.”

Lovejoy said if the act is invalidated to the extent Butler wants, “you’d get a cascade of extinctions, and a lot of 3.8 billion-year lines of evolution would come to a halt.”

Talbot said he isn’t sure opponents of the act will get all they want, but over time the act could be subject to “death by a thousand cuts.”

Whatever happens, he said, “It’s going to be a battle.”

Thomas Lovejoy can be reached at 703-993-5179 or tlovejoy@gmu.edu.

Lee Talbot can be reached at 571-236-4886 or ltalbot@gmu.edu.

For more information, contact Damian Cristodero at 703-993-9118 or dcristod@gmu.edu.

About George Mason

George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 36,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.