While some in the environmental community will tell you that President Donald Trump’s changes to the rules governing the Endangered Species Act will be the ruin of us all, that’s not true. At least two of the rules make very good sense.
One will allow federal agencies to take the economic impact of a listing into account. As too many Oregon communities know from bitter experience, a listing can mean the end of the only good jobs in a small town, and in rural Oregon, those jobs can be hard to replace.
Gilchrist, about 45 miles south of Bend in Klamath County, Kinzua in Wheeler County and Seneca in Grant County all saw mills and jobs disappear after the act became law. And while Gilchrist and Seneca have been able to cling to life, Kinzua is officially a ghost town. The ESA cannot be blamed directly for all the communities’ problems, but the listing of the northern spotted owl certainly didn’t make survival any easier.
It’s difficult to believe that sponsors of the ESA had that in mind when the bill was approved in 1973.
The other change being proposed would clearly separate the way “threatened” and “endangered” species are treated. Again, the northern spotted owl comes to mind.
The bird is, in reality, not endangered under the ESA. Rather, it’s threatened, meaning it could become endangered, and thus near extinction, without action. There’s nothing wrong with that, but, again in the owl’s case, when the two classifications are treated similarly, too often those who own and/or work the land on which species depend, are left out of the solution-finding process.
Better, as Central Oregonians have learned in the last few years, are the collaborative efforts that have aimed to preserve habitat for such animals as the nearly threatened greater sage grouse and the threatened spotted frog. When stakeholders, including government agencies, landowners and environmental groups, work together, they often can find solutions that help both threatened species and man.
The ESA has not been the worst law ever passed by Congress, to be sure, and some proposed changes may well go too far. These two, however, promise to bring a dose of reality and a reason for cooperation to a law that badly needs both.