Let's expand our list of endangered

Thursday, May 7, 1998

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Geez, I hope the falcons and eagles and wolves got the memo from Bruce Babbitt. And I hope they're ready.

The Interior secretary announced plans Wednesday to remove these and 26 other species from the official "endangered" list. They're supposed to be capable of surviving without government protection.

Although I can't say I've spent much time rolling in the buffalo clover of Ohio or visiting the Missouri bladder-pod, I once donated a sandwich to a brown pelican against my will. He was on the list, and he knew it. If he'd had a nose or a thumb, he would have used them both.

Slapping him silly

Next time, he tries this, I guess I'm allowed to slap him silly. Or at least chase him away. From his attitude, I believe he was thinking of filing a complaint that I had used ordinary white bread instead of cracked wheat. He'll have to learn to be more diplomatic. Or find his own tuna.

A total of 29 formerly threatened animals and plants are expected to be removed or downgraded from the Endangered Species Act list in the next two years. Besides a bunch of plants I've never heard of, there are some familiar animals and birds.

Peregrine falcons, bald eagles, Columbia white-tailed deer, gray timber wolves are easy to love. Pahrump poolfish and night lizards require more imagination. But even the most dedicated ignoramus surely understands by now the peril of losing entire plant and animal species.

I have no idea, for instance, what import the Dismal Swamp Southeastern shrew might have on my life. But a few years ago, I didn't know how important yew trees would be to those of us who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. The new miracle drug Taxotere comes from the European yew tree, and Taxol, also used in the treatment of breast cancer, comes from the bark and needles of the Pacific yew.

"In the near future, many species will be flying, splashing and leaping off the list," Mr. Babbitt said. "They made it. They're graduating." Officials say this is the biggest such liberation in the 25-year history of the Endangered Species Act.

So, is this really good news? Are things really this good for Truckee barberry of California and Lloyd's hedgehog cactus of New Mexico? Or have they simply been chintzy about hiring lobbyists or making contributions to somebody's re-election campaign? "These species are genuine success stories," said Christopher E. Williams of the World Wildlife Fund.

More than 1,130 animals and plants are listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as endangered or threatened, making it illegal to kill or harm them. So maybe 29 isn't a big number, but it's a start. "There's a genuine savings once you get these creatures off the list," Mr. Babbitt said. "The federal monitors can pack up and go home." Money will be freed for other projects, he said.

This doesn't mean, of course, that it's open season on timber wolves or brown pelicans. It just means they're no longer in danger of extinction.

"It shows that animals can make a comeback when they're supported by food and space," said Penny Geary of the Cincinnati Zoo. "There's a lot to be learned from nature."

She also told me to avoid feeding the pelican. "They shouldn't get used to taking handouts." I assured her that it was not voluntary. How did they help the mallards and hawks become self-sufficient and healthy? How did they teach them to feed themselves? "Part of it is improved habitat," Ms. Geary says.

They must have made sure there was nothing in their environment that would kill them. Healthy babies -- that was probably important, too.

Let's ask the Department of the Interior if we could get a look at its plan. Maybe we could figure out a way to apply its strategy to the human species. Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer

on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at laurapulfer@enquirer.com

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