The Why Files The Why Files --

 The science behind the politics: What should the candidates be talking about?
orange skyline
scientist looks into microscope
bald eagle

Questions for candidates:

White feathers decorate the head of a large, yellow-beak
Photo: USGS
The bald eagle, the U.S. national bird, was one beneficiary of the Endangered Species Act. So is it time to undermine the Act?

Is the Endangered Species Act itself endangered?

Nature of the problem: The U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) was passed in 1973 at the behest of President Richard Nixon, to keep plants and animals from going extinct, and it's had some big successes -- notably the bald eagle, which multiplied so well under protection that it lost endangered status in 2007.

Scope of the problem: Because the act requires that landowners protect endangered species, which can cost money, the ESA has aroused political opposition. In its waning days, the Bush Administration proposes to dilute the Act by allowing federal agencies to decide for themselves if proposed projects, including dams and roads, would violate the act. Under existing practice, agencies refer these questions to experts at the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, where science may play a larger role than it does at, say, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The big questions: Do you plan vigorous enforcement of the ESA? Which agencies would you make responsible for enforcement? Do you believe that environmental protection is inherently in conflict with the economy, and how would that belief affect decisions about endangered species?

More reading:

Collect these endangered species cards.

Roads in the wild?

Megan Anderson, project assistant; Terry Devitt, editor; S.V. Medaris, designer/illustrator; David Tenenbaum, feature writer; Amy Toburen, content development executive

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