01 June 2006

Me and the ESA

I've had a day or so to recover from yesterday's revelation that I have to get Endangered Species Research Permits to cover the possibility that I might take some of the newly-listed endangered Hawaiian Drosophila along with the ones that I'm after. The paperwork is definitely going to be a royal pain in the ass. That's absolutely certain. Because I am conducting scientific research, I need a scientific research permit; in order to get a scientific research permit, my research must have a conservation benefit for the involved species. This, in turn, means that I am actually going to have to pay more attention to the endangered species than I had initially intended.

As annoying as all of this is, it's a good thing.

The reason that we have the Endangered Species Act (if only for the moment) is not to penalize business and cripple America's ability to compete globally. The purpose of the ESA(wingnut objections notwithstanding) to permit the federal government to take private land without compensation. The purpose of the ESA is not to make it easier for us touchy-feely liberal types to get in touch with nature. The purpose of the Endangered Species Act is to try and make sure that our grandchildren and great-grandchildren live in a country as rich in biodiversity as the one we have now. It's not perfect - we are still losing species. In fact, the ESA's more or less just a finger in the dike. But it's all the protection that many of these species have.

One of the botanists at UH told me that there was, about 100 years ago, a researcher there who liked to make "century collections" - collecting and preserving 100 samples of a plant, and sending the samples off to herbariums around the world. Apparently, there were a couple of cases where he only got up to about 80 or so, and nobody's ever been able to find the plant since. I don't know whether this is true or not, but either way it's a pretty damn good cautionary tale. As much as I'd like to follow the example Bill Murray set in Ghostbusters, things really shouldn't work that way. Scientists are perfectly capable of harming the environment if they are not careful. The ESA paperwork and oversight makes sure that our research will not just increase knowledge, but will also aid in the recovery of the endangered species, and this benefit far outweighs the inconvenience that results.

But the paperwork's still gonna suck.

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