Congress attacks
protection laws as
diversity dwindles


The loss of one of three po'ouli birds moves the species to the brink of extinction

THE death of what might be one of the last of three po'ouli presages the extinction of one of 32 endangered bird species in Hawaii. To witness the final moments of an ancient lineage of life on Earth is a sobering commentary on human stewardship.

Yet laws and regulations aimed at ensuring the sustenance of the planet's diverse organisms are continually under attack. With the po'ouli's infinitesimal chances for survival fresh in her mind, Governor Lingle should bring a strong message for maintaining protections to an endangered species summit she will attend this weekend.

The po'ouli that died Friday had been captured in hopes of breeding the unique species. Biologists had also hoped to capture one or both of the others, but neither have been spotted in nearly a year. Even if they are still alive, it is unlikely the species will survive much longer.

When first discovered in 1973, the po'ouli were already small in number with an estimated population of less than 200. Though fossil remains have been found further downslope, indicating a wider previous range, habitat degradation and disease appeared to have narrowed their living space to the dense rainforests in the upper elevations of east Maui.

Habitat protection helps ensure that endangered plants and animals stay alive, but they must compete with humans for their homes. However, Republicans in Congress want to revise the Endangered Species Act with the intent to weaken the law.

Critics claim that since only 14 species have been removed from the endangered list in the act's 30-year history, it doesn't work. This belies the fact that delays in designating necessary habitats play a significant role and ignores the recoveries, such as the bald eagle, the law has brought. Moreover, many species, still struggling, would have been wiped out had the act not been in place.

The key reason for the conflict is that about 80 percent of endangered species' habitats lie on private land, preventing extraction and other industries from profitable enterprises. Congress can address this by compensating land owners or providing incentives for conservation. Gutting the law will guarantee more plants and animals will disappear.

There are many who devalue the need to sustain the diversity of the planet's organisms. They argue that if a plant or animal cannot survive evolving conditions, their continued existence might not be necessary, disregarding human dependence on the fruits, known and unknown, of the environment and the complex integration of nature.

Lingle will present case studies on the endangered red ilima and the palila, another of the islands' imperiled birds, at the Western Governors Association summit in San Diego. Her voice should ring with resolution for protection of Hawaii's unique species.

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