Thursday, June 06, 2013

It's Nature's Way!

Without question, the Endangered Species Act isn't perfect and can certainly be improved, but contrary to some opinions it has actually helped some species recover. Having said that, I want call your attention to something Idaho Representative Raul Labrador said during a recent House Hearing when he suggested that government take no action to protect endangered species from extinction:

"Could the answer just be that nature takes care of itself, that maybe we don't know more than nature does? Your answer is to come from up top, telling nature what it needs to do and telling humans what they need to do, as opposed to realizing, as Mr. Costa just asked, that some species are going to go and some species are going to stay, and that's just the regular evolutionary process, and you don't know more than everybody else."

I don't possess a science degree and I'm not an expert, but even I can find problems with his comment. First of all, can you see Labrador's is-ought fallacy? Just because something is the way it is doesn't mean it should be that way. Is shrinking habitat, decreased biodiversity, and flirting with ecosystem collapse advantageous to us in the long run? One might make the argument that these are natural processes in response to an environment that's being rapidly modified by us and is happening so quickly that some animals just can't keep pace. I guess this is the way nature is, so let's just run with it.

The background extinction rate – the rate species are lost between major extinction events – is presently over a thousand times above normal. If you degrade and destroy habitat long enough, biodiversity will decrease. This is nature's way of responding to diminished resources; a systematic process of species extirpation. Sure, the accelerated rate is natural, but it is not normal. That's the difference Labrador doesn't seem to understand. Just because something is natural doesn't necessarily mean it's good. One wonders if he is aware of what's driving up the present extinction rate.

With regard to birds in the short term, one may observe more habitat generalist species like robins, crows, and cardinals thriving in the yards of new housing developments, but at the same time losing specialists like Cerulean Warblers, Red-headed Woodpeckers, and Field Sparrows. It's true that some species are going to go and some species are going to stay, but you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.

Among nature's animals, humans are in a unique position for an ability to influence control in either direction. We can make things worse, or we can make things better for ourselves and for other animals. We can strive to take better care of the environment, or we can let nature do it at nature's pace as Labrador seems to suggest. I do find some solace in the fact that after every major extinction event that ever occurred it took the processes of nature a mere 5 to 10 million years to replenish biodiversity. That's nothing in terms of geological time, so why worry? Apparently, according to Labrador, we don't know more than nature does, so why waste taxpayer dollars trying to fix something that will ultimately take care of itself?

No doubt Labrador would exempt humans from the extinction argument because we're special. But by ignoring our present environmental woes we may ultimately face the same fate we're doling out to other species. It's probably a long way off, yet. But should we become extinct, that, too, will be as natural as green prairies and blue skies. What Labrador really advocates is environmental irresponsibility. That he sits on the Natural Resources Committee is a political travesty.

Related link: 'Declining Numbers of Birds' at Laura's Birding Blog

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