All creatures great and small Endangered Species Act: Taking stock on the 25th anniversary of a success in environmental protection.

June 13, 1998

AS THE federal Endangered Species Act observes its 25th anniversary, there is little chance of congressional reauthorization this year.

But the good news is that the benefits of species diversity and protection are widely accepted; the dispute now centers on how to achieve the goal.

More good news: The government proposes to remove 29 animals and plants from the endangered list, recognizing their human-nurtured resurgence. It's the largest number delisted ever.

Only 21 endangered species were removed in the previous quarter-century; 14 of those either became extinct anyway or had been erroneously listed originally.

The federal list still has more than 1,100 imperiled fauna and flora; some 100 new candidates are considered each year.

The bald eagle, peregrine falcon and Aleutian snow goose are prominent examples of recovered species, testaments to the act's success. But nature, and political history, are more complex. The law has not been a cure-all.

The eagle, for example, rebounded largely because of a ban on DDT pesticides and the protections of the National Emblem Act, both prior to the endangered species law. Reintroduced peregrines and their offspring now prefer city skyscrapers, with abundant pigeon prey, to their native mountain habitat. Witness Beauregard and Artemis, peregrines who last month hatched a new brood of chicks atop the former USF&G tower in Baltimore.

Killing predator foxes on wildlife preserves was key to protecting the Aleutian goose.

The Delmarva fox squirrel is the most visible Maryland denizen on the endangered list. A slower, fatter cousin of the common gray squirrel, its welfare has become the crux of a legal battle over plans for an upscale, gated subdivision in Queen Anne's County.

Buffeted by complaints that the law unfairly limits property rights without compensation, the White House is pushing for a program of controversial Habitat Conservation Plans. A landowner would set aside habitat for identified endangered species in exchange for blanket exemption from further measures for 40 to 80 years.

That's too long a period, given rapid advances in science and the discovery of newly threatened species. Healthy biodiversity is good for all creatures. The unmistakable evidence is that human activities, rather than natural selection, has endangered these species. They deserve dedicated human effort to nurture their recovery.

Pub Date: 6/13/98

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