When we talk about endangered species, we need to draw a distinction between species that are recklessly endangered through over-hunting, for sport or commercial purposes, and species that are endangered because of interspecies competition for resources, whether the competition is with man or with other species. There’s a clear difference between (a) protecting a species from being hunted to extinction and (b) seeking out any species that’s facing extinction due to its lack of fitness or adaptation to the ever-changing environment, and attempting to protect it from it’s natural fate.
We have laws that prohibit “taking” of endangered species. I fully support those laws. The recovery of the bald eagle is an excellent example of how those laws serve their intended purpose. The bald eagle was not facing extinction because it couldn’t adapt to a changing environment, but because people were hunting it out of existence. When the hunting of bald eagles was banned, the species recovered on its own. I have no problem with prohibiting the taking of spotted owls, snail darters, and short nosed suckerfish. But that’s not the issue with them.
When the environment changes, whether that change was impacted by man or not, if a species can’t adapt without intervention, then intervention is futile. It can do no more than postpone the inevitable. Attempting to keep a species that is not adapted to the existing environment on permanent life support is not sustainable. When the environment changes, however that change comes about, the natural law is adapt or die. Man didn’t make that law, and man cannot change it.
Some admonish that man should not change the environment. Unfortunately, that isn’t an option. Man isn’t the only species that changes its environment. Nature is all about adaptation. Environments adapt to the impacts of their inhabitants, just as species adapt to their changing environments. But one of the reasons the human species is so successful is because, when man cannot adapt to his environment, he has learned to intentionally adapt the environment to man. Sometimes that necessarily happens at the expense of other species who compete for the same resources within the environment. But interspecies competition for limited resources is all part of nature.
I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t try to mitigate our impact. Responsible stewardship is in our own best interest. If we use up our resources with no thought to replenishment, and destroy the very resources on which we depend, we would end up sabotaging ourselves. There is no justification for gratuitous destruction, but all progress comes at some cost. The question is what is an acceptable cost? If we stopped all production and consumption, shut down all factories, stopped driving cars, flying in airplanes, transporting goods by boat or train, stopped heating our homes, and (above all) stopped breeding more human beings, all of these would lessen our impact on the environment. Does that mean it’s incumbent on us to do those things?
Every advance mankind has made throughout our rise to civilization has come at the expense of various natural environments. Every acre of land in this country that is productive or valuable today was once some natural wilderness of one sort or another, providing habitat for numerous species, some of which have successfully adapted, while others have not. The creatures who inhabited the land on which our cities and towns and suburbs and farms and industrial areas are laid out had to either adapt to the changes, migrate to new terrirories, or face extinction. And that will continue to happen for millennia to come.
Innumerable species have come and gone on this planet before man ever existed. Many more will come and go in the course of eternity. Our species’ impact on the environment will necessarily affect the evolution of other species, just as every species impacts every other species in its ecosystem. That’s the way of nature.