Feb 072006

Dear Senator Salazar:

We write as educators and researchers concerned about the loss of America's biological diversity. According to NatureServe, an international network of scientists cataloguing and assessing trends in biological diversity, nearly one-third of native species in the United States are at risk of extinction. Extinction is irreversible – once species are lost, they cannot be brought back.

In 1973, President Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act with the goal of conserving threatened and endangered species and the ecosystems on which they depend. The Act has been a qualified success. The Sept. 30, 2005 edition of Science reported that less than 1 percent of listed species have gone extinct since 1973, while 10 percent of candidate species waiting to be listed have done so. In addition, the populations of 30 percent or more listed species have been stabilized and are no longer in decline. The Act can be improved, but not at the cost of diminishing our commitment to the conservation of species.

Currently the Senate is considering legislation that could have long-lasting impacts on the conservation of America's natural heritage. Senators Crapo and Allard have introduced a bill, S.2110, entitled the "Collaboration and Recovery of Endangered Species Act," that would render species protections under the Endangered Species Act ineffective by reducing mandatory protections for species and their habitats and shifting the costs of mitigating for the impacts of private development to the general taxpayer. Existing provisions in the Act that conserve habitat and address the threats that put species at risk must be maintained if we are to conserve species for future generations.

Biological diversity is the source of critical resources such as food, fiber and medicines essential to human wellbeing. In Colorado alone, biodiversity generates several billion dollars worth of recreational goods and services, as well as joy, appreciation and wonder among local citizens and visitors. In addition, properly functioning ecosystems with species playing key roles provide essential services such as nutrient cycling, detoxification of wastes, amelioration of climate extremes and maintenance of the hydrological cycle. Recently, the Ecological Society of America, a professional scientific society with more than 9,000 members, concluded in a report that species extinctions caused by human activities have altered ecosystems' goods and services. Many of these changes are impossible to reverse with technological solutions.

Biological diversity is featured prominently in the classroom and in our laboratories. It is the obvious focus in academic departments such as biology and fishery and wildlife biology, but it is also important in departments such as philosophy, English, history, engineering and religion. In addition to the essential goods and services they provide, species are the source of aesthetic, spiritual and intellectual inspiration for many academic disciplines. To the extent that the diversity of life is reduced, many academic disciplines are also diminished and impoverished. Given the inescapable links between human welfare and environmental integrity, we believe America should be increasing its efforts towards nature conservation, not diminishing them.

Finally, we believe human beings have an ethical obligation to conserve the Earth's species, which have an intrinsic value over and above the many benefits they provide to human beings. As it stands, the Endangered Species Act articulates Americans' ethical commitment to conserving our native flora and fauna. Poll after poll has affirmed that Americans acknowledge this commitment. Large majorities of Americans support existing protections for endangered species and want to see them strengthened, not weakened. To change course after three decades and allow individuals, corporations or government agencies to incrementally push species to extinction, which S. 2110 would do, is an abdication of our responsibility to future generations.

The Endangered Species Act is a safety net to conserve America's natural heritage for future generations. As the U. S. population grows and land conversion continues unabated, the need for additional protections for species becomes even more urgent. We urge you to promote legislation in the Senate that strengthens rather than weakens the protections we afford our precious natural heritage. In particular, we ask that you oppose S. 2110 and similar legislation that would lessen the protection of species and the ecosystems on which they depend.

Philip Cafaro

Associate Professor of Philosophy

Colorado State University

(970) 491-2061


Barry R. Noon

Professor of Fishery and Wildlife Biology

Colorado State University

(970) 491-7905


Holmes Rolston III

University Distinguished Professor

Professor of Philosophy

Colorado State University

(970) 491-5328


note: the views expressed in this letter are the views of the undersigned and do not represent Colorado State University or the state of Colorado

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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