New Castle News

September 4, 2013

Our Opinion: Effort to change law on species misses bigger picture

By Staff
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — A bit of a dustup is brewing in Pennsylvania over endangered species.

Proposed legislation would place new rules on the process for declaring species at risk in the commonwealth, and force agencies to regularly document such a designation.

There are also proposals to expand the review process for such designations, which now can occur as quickly as six months after efforts begin.

Currently in Pennsylvania, the power to claim a species endangered falls to the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. Lawmakers behind efforts to change the law say these agencies are not properly accountable to the public, and they question the practicality of some decisions.

Not surprisingly, the push for changes in state law come from some industries. The discovery of endangered species — such as the Indiana bat — can thwart planned development. That costs money.

Critics of the current system point to obscure listings of certain creatures that most people have never heard of. They also complain of designations of some species that — while rare in the commonwealth — are easily found in other parts of the country.

Defenders of the current law, including the game and fish and boat commissions, along with assorted environmental organizations, worry the new efforts are intended to allow industry to run roughshod over endangered species. They raise the issue that the proposed changes would weaken scientific review of the listing process and replace it with one that’s far more political.

Our expectation is that Pennsylvanians will see lot of head butting over species in the coming months, and perhaps years. And while both sides have some valid arguments, this sort of debate tends to miss the bigger picture.

A real problem, as we see it, involves the approach of singling out species for endangered status. It may work wonders when the creature is the majestic bald eagle, but the Northern cricket frog does not seem to garner the same level of sympathy.

In our view, the goal should not be to protect specific endangered species. Rather, the focus ought to be on habitat.

Today, protection of endangered species has reached the point of keeping some species alive in captivity only. There is insufficient range or habitat in the wild to allow them to survive naturally.

Yet the concept of species protection shouldn’t be viewed as a kind-hearted deed. Rather, it’s about aiding and promoting diversity. And species within habitats are interrelated — including human beings.

Yes, there is validity in effective species protection. But the real focus needs to be on habitat and ways it can be preserved. Unfortunately, that’s a wide-ranging and often inconvenient conversation for Pennsylvanians to have. So instead, squabbles over individual species and clashes over land use persist.