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Endangered Species Act declared extinct

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: August 13, 2008 6:45 p.m.
Updated: October 15, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Monday was the celebration day of St. Claire, namesake of our Santa Clara River.

St. Claire was a follower of St. Francis of Assisi, the Catholic saint known for his caring and kindness for the animals, as well as his human charges. St. Francis is the monk we often see in garden statues with a bird on his shoulder and small animals at his feet.

His day in October is lovingly celebrated in many nations with a "blessing of the animals" ceremony, during which people bring pets and livestock to their local churches to be blessed. Claire, the founder of the female order of Franciscans, is often pictured holding a lamp emanating with light, lighting the way through the darkness.

Not being Catholic myself, I have freely improvised in my mind on these beautiful images when thinking about St. Claire and the Santa Clara River. I have imagined her lighting the way for our understanding of the importance of the web of life, lighting the way for caring for the animals as well as ourselves, for understanding the importance of a flowing river to all life.

With these thoughts in mind, I can't tell you with what dismay I heard the news Wednesday that President Bush would suspend the endangered species rules by executive fiat.

The Endangered Species Act, along with several of our other venerable environmental rules such as the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, were promulgated in the early ‘70s and signed into law by then-President Richard Nixon.

This law has been instrumental in assuring the continued existence of many animals and plants from the bald eagle, our national symbol, to the grizzly bear and migrating salmon.

The Santa Clara River is home to several endangered species, including fish, birds, amphibians and plants. It is an ecological treasure trove of the biological diversity and botanical history of the Southern California region.

Since it is the last unchanneled river in Los Angeles County, its loss to thoughtless or careless development would be irreplaceable. That is why the Endangered Species Act has been so important in consideration of projects locally.

Extinction is forever, as they say. It is final. There is no reprieve, no way to realize our mistake and bring these animals and plants back once they are gone. Once we let them go through our own doing, we have played with creation and put that particular pair of creatures or plant off the ark of our planet.

Do we really want to do this? If we even think about it at all, we certainly do not want to approve such measures without careful consideration and a lot of unbiased scientific data. But loss of these environmental protections was not the only thing that upset me about Bush's actions.

The Endangered Species Act came into existence as a result of the democratic process. It went through the rigorous procedures, amendments and discussions that accompany every bill that winds its way through Congress.

It was signed into law by a Republican president. That process, though long and arduous, and certainly not perfect, is the way we do things in our democratic nation. It is supposedly what we fight wars to protect, it is what we promote for other nations.

So when Bush suspended parts of this important law, through his order alone, I was not only angry, I was ashamed. This is what happens in dictatorships. One man changes the law. One man, right or wrong, makes the orders without the input of elected officials.

This is not supposed to happen in a democracy, whether it is about the Endangered Species Act or our civil rights. Since the early ‘70s no Congress has agreed to such sweeping changes to the Endangered Species
Act as those Bush is now trying to put in place, and no president has signed them into law.

For nearly 40 years, our country has supported, worked with and adhered to the Endangered Species Act in its present form. So why now, after all this time, is it important to impose these changes? And whom will they serve - some big development corporation or the people of those communities?

I urge everyone who recognizes this stewardship to write to President Bush and demand that any changes to the Endangered Species Act go through the democratic process that we live by in this country.

Lynne Plambeck is president of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment and a Santa Clarita resident. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily that of The Signal.


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