I sincerely believe that the Endangered Species Act, when passed, was done with only lofty motives and the best of intentions. Numerous species of plants, animals, etc., were reportedly fast heading toward extinction and man's activities were blamed.
Under the law as passed, habitat on government controlled land had to be protected and preserved. Destruction of habitat was seen as the chief culprit at that time.
Diversity among all species — no matter how useless — all varieties of every living thing should continue to exist. (Somehow “survival of the fittest” was dropped from the lexicon and equation.)
Man's progress was seen as uncaring greed in the eyes of many of the bill's early proponents and certainly so with many in the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and surprisingly to a lesser degree in EPA, which in its early days had “bigger fish to fry” (no pun intended!).
Notable confrontation took place. For example you all may remember a major canal/lock and dam project on the Tennessee/Tombigbee River was held up for years because of a (later discovered faulty) determination that the habitat for the “snail darter minnow” around the site for the Tellico Dam would be damaged and that this fish might become extinct since at this time this was its only known habitat.
The sad fate of the timber industry in the Northwest due to the “spotted owl” also brings to mind some of the absurdities in implementation of a well-intentioned law.
Most recently we have egregious examples of water being reserved for a sucker fish and farm lands dependent upon irrigation denied water from the lake in which the fish lives. After denying water until it was too late, the Bureau of Land Management finally determined that the calculation about how much water there was in the lake and how much the “sucker” needed were initially in error. Therefore, some water could be released.
Only a short few weeks ago there were reports — still under investigation — that alleged that the death of four forest fire fighters had been caused by a denial of permission for helicopters to withdraw in time water from a protected lake because of ESA considerations. Now this goes too far — when human lives were lost due to spread of a fire which could have been prevented had water been made available sufficiently early. The fire was allowed to get out of control while authorities dawdled.
All these events and countless other unlisted ones resulted from unintended consequences of illogical but unbending obedience by bureaucrats to the exact letter of the ESA. Such being the case — something needs to be changed. Because of environmentalists' pressure to date our Congress hasn't had the guts to straighten this mess out. The intent of the law was good but flexibility must be allowed.
The law doesn't have to be done away with — but it sure does need fixing!