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Help for the Wild Ones

August 18, 1986

Even with the protection of the law, survival is a struggle for many of America's rare and endangered plants and animals. The Defenders of Wildlife conservation organization estimates that 300 species may have become extinct while waiting for the funds and paper work needed to give them formal shelter under the Endangered Species Act.

At the same time, supporters of the act must struggle constantly to preserve this landmark federal law against efforts to weaken it.

Each developer wants an exemption to allow his project to go forward without the cost of providing sanctuary for threatened or endangered creatures. Such a battle is under way now with the proposed construction of a dam in Texas that would threaten the habitat of the Concho water snake, scheduled for the threatened-species list next January. Alternative project plans would provide the same amount of water and save the Concho's habitat, although at somewhat higher cost. When such alternatives are available, they should be pursued.

Under pressure from stockmen, Western senators want to make it easier for their states to provide sport hunting for the grizzly bear and the Rocky Mountain wolf despite severe threats to the grizzly population and a widely supported campaign to reintroduce the wolf to Yellowstone National Park. The way to allay stockmen's concerns is with adequate compensation programs for any known livestock killing by predators. Killing more grizzlies and wolves at the same time we are trying to save them makes no sense.

First passed in 1973, the Endangered Species Act in effect must be renewed every two years when Congress sets new appropriation authorization levels for the Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies to administer the law and conduct recovery programs. That process is under way. As usual, it is a struggle.

One of the major means of bringing species back into viability is to buy habitat areas with money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. But the Administration's 1987 budget proposed cutting fund uses for this purpose by 95%. The listing of species nominated for endangered or threatened status and protection is years behind schedule. The government has recovery plans drafted for only 58% of the species already listed. Cooperative programs with the states are under attack.

Every agency faces a lack of money these days. Presumably, agencies like the Fish and Wildlife Service will be able to play catch-up when the deficit problem is alleviated. But there is no reason that the basics of a strong Endangered Species Act cannot, and should not, be approved so that battles like that over the Concho water snake do not have to be fought every two years.

If a species is threatened, it should be protected. While enforcement of the law has not been ideal, the recovery of a number of species demonstrates the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act. Among those on the road to recovery are the gray whale, the bald eagle, the peregrine falcon, the whooping crane, the American alligator and the brown pelican.

From the mightiest grizzly to the lowliest water snake, or even the snail darter, these creatures are an important part of our natural heritage and spirit of frontier. Each new generation of species that takes root makes the nation more complete.

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