In the past decade, environmental protection often has been called the enemy of economic progress - and no example was offered as proof of this more often than the Endangered Species Act.
The notion that one comes at the expense of the other is a myth.The fact is, a clean environment and a strong economy are two sides of the same coin. Both depend on planning ahead, on investing in the future rather than squandering our resources, on building a better life for our children. Ultimately, we will have both good jobs and a clean environment - or we will have neither.
Until President Clinton rose to the challenge of making some difficult decisions at his Pacific Northwest Forest Conference, too many decisions about the environment were left to chance. That neglect was cowardly, and it made the Endangered Species Act as misunderstood as its unhappy mascot - the northern spotted owl.
The owl is a "marker species," like the canary that miners once took into the mines with them. If the canary stopped singing, the miners knew it had died of invisible poisons in the air - and they knew they were next if they didn't act quickly. The survival of any marker species is a signal about the fate of an entire ecosystem.
The survival of species is also important to maintaining the earth's genetic storehouse. We don't know how much genetic material is enough. We know that we depend upon genetic diversity to deep our crops and herds one step ahead of pests, diseases and droughts.
We know that we need every clue to finding new medicines. We know that extinction is irrevocable - and so we know with absolute certainty that we don't want to find out the hard way how much genetic diversity is enough.
The destruction of genetic diversity is "the folly our descendants are least likely to forgive us," E.O. Wilson, a top scientist, warned more than a decade ago. Another expert, Norman Meyers, estimates that we will lose several hundred species every day by early in the next century.
Today, more than 800 species in the United States are listed as threatened or endangered by extinction, and the destruction of natural habitat is hastening the number of extinctions.
The bald eagle, the whooping crane, the American alligator, the California gray whale, the California condor and the peregrine falcon are among the many species the Endangered Species Act has rescued from extinction. After 20 years, this law remains the best hope for conserving America's biological diversity.
To make the Endangered Species Act work for both people and wildlife, I have introduced a bill that has won the approval of groups that have not always seen eye-to-eye: the Western Governors Association, the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, and the 70-plus environmental groups that make up the Endangered Species Coalition.
When it comes to endangered species, Ben Franklin's "ounce of prevention" really is "worth a pound of cure." My bill's goal is to head off conflicts between endangered species and development by preventing species from becoming endangered in the first place. It calls for basing recovery plans on sound science, for doing all that can be done to lessen the impact on the local economy, and for being better partners with states and private property owners.
If we are determined to conserve the biological heritage that our future depends upon, we need the support of both those who work the land and those who care about it. If we are going to be successful in saving both jobs and endangered species, we need more cooperation and less confrontation. My bill will do that job.