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Dispatches from the edge of doom
Date:5/9/2011

d and small fish, the snail darter, that almost stopped an enormous dam. The now-iconic fight over the Tennessee Valley Authority's Tellico Dam highlights how much has changed since the Act's inception. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the darter. Brought before Congress, a Tennessee legislator named Al Gore voted to change the rules in favor of the dam. Freshman congressman Newt Gingrich voted for the fish. The fish lost, though it survives in other waterways.

"The ESA has been more flexible over time," Roman says, "it's become more of a permitting act than a prohibiting act." A few creatures have gone extinct while waiting to be listed on the Endangered Species Act. But many other creatures, like the bald eagle, alligator, brown pelican, and gray whale, have recovered and now thrive thanks to ESA protection.

"Although it may be decades before we can adequately assess its effectiveness," Roman writes, "it is clear that protection works. If we see the glass as half full, most listed species improve or remain stable. Dozens more would have gone extinct without protection."

Take the Florida panther that looks soulfully out from the cover of the new book. Once roaming across much of the American South, by the 1980s panthers on the East Coast had dwindled to an inbred few dozen in the swampy Everglades. Without the genetic diversity needed to survive, the big cats were written off by many people as walking dead. So the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, under the banner of the ESA, brought in eight female panthers from Texas. Slightly compromising the distinct genetic identity of the Florida population was well worth the outcome: a considerably recovered population that now breeds successfully.

This tale, told in the ninth chapter of Roman's book, "The Panther's New Genes," is "a very good case study for managing species," Roman says in a recent podcast, "The ESA isn't just about protecting them from dangers. You actually have to act
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Contact: Joshua Brown
joshua.e.brown@uvm.edu
802-656-3039
University of Vermont
Source:Eurekalert  

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