by Carolyn Chase
ome people think it goes too far. Many others feel it doesn't go far enough. Twenty-five years ago, on December 28th, 1973, the Endangered Species Act was passed to protect species of plants and animals in danger of extinction. A different Congress in a seemingly different age made the following findings::
"The Congress finds and declares that
It also enacted the following:
(2) It is further declared to be the policy
of Congress that Federal agencies shall
Can you imagine the current Congress even discussing such things in a civil fashion? That's why we couldn't expect much from them in terms of practical reforms of the ESA, though many folks agree that reform is needed. Like all nice ideas and policy proclamations, the implementation has fallen prey to politics.
The devil is still in the details and this is why the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity, along with fourteen other groups, have filed a lawsuit related to the implementation of San Diego's highly touted ESA-driven Habitat Conservation Plan, the Multiple Species Conservation Program, or MSCP.
The ESA was amended to allow for the creation of "Habitat Conservation Plans" to further the recovery of species. But the Southwest Center is claiming that the MSCP needs fixing in order to work and that certain species are not receiving adequate protection as the complex plan unfolds.
According to an affidavit submitted with respect
to this case, Dr. Marie Simovich of the University of San Diego,
member of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's Vernal Pool
Multi-Species Recovery Team, stated that the MSCP is likely to
jeopardize the continued existence of the San Diego fairy shrimp.
"If this is meant to be a model for the
nation, we need to be honest about its failings. In its current
form, the MSCP is bag of hollow promises." said Allison
Rolfe, San Diego director for the Center.
Vernal pools, depressions left by the ancient ocean, support several of the region's most critically endangered species which spring to life with the winter rains and remain dormant for as many as 10 to 15 years if the pools are dry.
Eric Bowlby, commenting on behalf of the San Diego Sierra Club remarked, "It is with some regret but also with great resolve that the Sierra Club stands here today as a co-plaintiff in this lawsuit directed at weaknesses in the highly-touted MSCP. The regret is that we were unable to fix these concerns inside of the lengthy process, though we consistently pointed them out along the way. The resolve is to ensure that the MSCP lives up to the critical standards necessary to fulfill its promise.
"We have lost 91% of our wetland habitats and we have but 2% of vernal pool habitats left. Council members and City staff insisted that their implementation would result in avoidance of wetland impacts. While the principals of habitat conservation and the MSCP are sound, the goals of MSCP cannot be met if it's 'business as usual' in the wetlands."
The Southwest Center is one of the nation's leading endangered species advocates. Previous petitions and suits by the Center resulted in the San Diego fairy shrimp, San Diego Mesa mint, San Diego button celery, Otay Mesa mint, and Orcutt's grass being listed under the Endangered Species Act.
When the ESA was passed 109 species were considered as covered under the act. Today the number of species considered officially endangered is 1,177 (475 animals, 702 plants). But there is a backlog of requests for species to be listed and abundant evidence of politicization of the listings process itself. When scientists consistently speculate that dozens of species are dropping into extinction DAILY, the fact that the ESA only shows 1216 species officially in trouble, reveals a substantial data gap somewhere.
Of the total of 1,216 species that have been
listed under the act.
Hawaii has the most number of species listed under the act. with 298 and California ranks as #2 with 256 species qualifying for coverage.
Opponents of the ESA claim that it was never intended to save "lesser" species and plants and believe it tramples on property rights. Proponents of the ESA point to consistent public support for the concept of protecting ecosystems and all their distinct species.
This lawsuit, brought by the SWCBD will strengthen the MSCP and help validate the species preservation claims that everyone is counting on for habitat conservation in San Diego to be effective.
Carolyn Chase is editor of the San Diego Earth Times which is published by Earth Media, Inc., which is also one of the fourteen co-plaintiffs in this suit.