February 17, 1997
Torah does not permit a killing that would uproot a species, even if it permitted the killing [of individuals] in that species.
-Nachmanides, Commentary on Deuteronomy 22:6.
Background: In 1996, the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council (NJCRAC) took action in response to the rapid destruction of habitats and species around the world, advocating that federal, state, and local governments develop, strengthen, and fully implement laws, policies, and programs that will protect and restore the biological inheritance of the human community both in the United States and abroad. In October of 1996, the World Conservation Union released the most comprehensive survey of threatened species around the world, estimating that 25 percent of mammals, 20 percent of reptiles, 25 percent of amphibians, and 34 percent of fish are threatened with extinction.
NJCRAC’s advocacy to protect biological diversity has focused on strengthening the Endangered Species Act, the nation’s most important vehicle for the protection of biological diversity. The Act encodes into law a moral principle shared by the Jewish tradition and the vast majority of Americans alike: It is wrong for human beings to knowingly cause the extinction of a unique form of life. The Act sets a mandate for the federal government to take actions necessary to prevent extinction, including the protection of habitat that is critical to the survival and recovery of an endangered species.
While the Endangered Species Act has succeeded in preventing the extinction of numerous animals, such as the bald eagle, american alligator, and peregrine falcon, the majority of listed species are far from recovering to stable and viable populations. Less than two percent of species fisted as endangered have improved sufficiently to be downlisted to threatened status and less than one half of one percent have recovered sufficiently to be fully delisted.
Sharp disagreements over the Endangered Species Act in the last two sessions of Congress prevented its reauthorization, which has been due since 1992. Unfortunately, the 104th Congress took action to hamper the implementation of the law, including a yearlong moratorium on new listings of endangered species, temporary suspension of the Endangered Species Act in national forests, and reduced funding for government agencies responsible for implementing the Act.
Therefore, the NJCRAC affirms the protection of species and their habitats as a basic goal of public policy and advocates the following improvements and amendments to the Endangered Species Act to ensure our nation’s success in achieving this goal:
1) Species protection should be based on sound science: The Act should require that the federal government conduct a national biological survey, including marine species, and conservation biology research sufficient to make timely decisions on the listing of species as threatened and endangered. Furthermore, Congress should amend the Endangered Species Act to prohibit the federal government from granting permits (“incidental take permits”) to destroy habitat that is scientifically demonstrated by peer review to be essential to the recovery of endangered species.
2) The government should work proactively to prevent dangerous declines in species populations rather than waiting until species are endangered: The Act should work proactively by requiring the timely creation and implementation of recovery plans for all endangered and threatened species that would protect and restore sufficient habitat to secure viable populations of declining species throughout their ranges. Furthermore, the Act should require that the federal government develop a national plan for the establishment of a system of natural preserves on land, in fresh water, and in the sea, to protect endangered ecosystems and the species which depend upon them.
3) The Act should strengthen protections for habitat on private lands through positive incentives: Critical to the protection and restoration of many endangered populations is the protection of their habitat on private lands. The NJCRAC calls on individual and corporate owners of endangered species habitat to cooperate with state and federal agencies to effectively protect and recover endangered species. Furthermore, the NJCRAC calls on the Administration and Congress to devise, fully fund, and aggressively publicize positive incentives to encourage private property owners to protect and recover endangered and threatened species and the habitat upon which they depend.
The NJCRAC urges the Congress and Administration to work diligently to reauthorize an amended Endangered Species Act and create secure funding mechanisms sufficient to fulfill, our mandate as a nation to protect and preserve our biological inheritance for its own sake and for the sake of generations to come.