Environmental interest conference draws more than 250
By Lindsey Tercilla
More than 250 students and environmentalists reflected on 40 years of the Endangered Species Act at the 19th annual Public Interest Environmental Conference Feb. 21-23.
The conference, which spanned Thursday to Saturday, included multiple panel discussions, a workshop sponsored by The Florida Bar, and training opportunities for attorneys and those outside the legal field.
Tim Center, executive director of Sustainable Florida, facilitated a Friday afternoon conversation among a panel of speakers about the ESA’s future in Florida.
While the act has been a great tool in providing protection for many species, John Kostyack, vice president of Wildlife Conservation for the National Wildlife Federation, observed that the act has not evolved to account for species migration.
“The ESA is one small tool in a larger tool box,” he said. “Ninety percent of the force to change the act will be through economic incentive.”
Kostyack then posed the question of whether or not there is a happy meeting ground for how to change the act.
Amelia Savage, attorney at Hopping Green & Sams, assists developers in acquiring building permits navigating the regulatory process, the legislative arena, or a litigation setting with regard to environmental law. Savage provided a different perspective from the land development and construction side of the argument.
Daniel Rohlf, an associate professor at Lewis & Clark in the school’s environmental and natural resources program, focused on addressing sections four and seven of the ESA. The difficulty comes with defining an endangered species.
“It’s amazing that we still aren’t sure what an endangered species is,” he said.
There’s also the question of how much security we want for species biodiversity.
Classifying endangered species, amending the act, and accounting for a sufficient amount of biodiversity are all at the forefront of environmentalists’ minds. However, one major thing that affects the ESA and environment alike is our ever-growing population.
Reed Noss, Provost’s Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Central Florida, spoke about this growth in relation to new species and our duty to the environment.
“There’s a lot going on simply due to population growth and overconsumption that could lead to the extinction of some species before we’ve even named them,” Noss said. “We are custodians and stewards of the land. The land is not a commodity that belongs to us.”
Keynote speakers for this year’s conference included Carl Safina, founding president of the Blue Ocean Institute and award winning author of Song for the Blue Ocean and Eye of the Albatross, and Zygmunt Plater and Patrick Parenteau, attorneys in the landmark decision of Tennessee Valley Authority v. Hill et al. – temporarily halting the completion of the Tellico Dam on the Little Tennessee River in order to protect the snail darter, an endangered species of fish.