A scientifically savvy narrator untangles the legal, scientific and historical labyrinth surrounding the 1973 Endangered Species Act.
Conservation biologist Roman (Ecological Economics/Vermont Univ.; Whale, 2006) traveled the country examining biodiversity protection and its cost to humans, as well as the benefits and value of the Act itself. Here the author provides enticing communiqués with field biologists, choosing his subjects based on “where there appeared to be a clear conflict between conservation and economics.” Roman toggles between historical accounts of conservation attempts and contemporary issues, including climate change and the risk of emerging diseases. This technique provides a frame of reference in which to place the Act, which, from its inception, has been divisive. The author revisits the work of well-known environmentalists such as Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson and Theodore Roosevelt, while introducing equally important but unfamiliar characters, including William T. Hornaday, an eminent zoologist who in 1912 published “the first systematic attempt to list all species threatened with early extermination”; and John Clark Salyer, who in the 1930s “increased the protected acreage from less than 2 million to almost 30 million acres.” In Maryland, Roman visited with aviculturists dressed in long white shrouds, masking their human forms, who use whooping crane puppets to feed the young birds and prevent their imprinting on humans. “This imaginative leap on the part of the biologists—and perhaps on the part of the crane themselves—led to the establishment of a new migration corridor east of the Mississippi,” he writes.
Despite a few sections overly larded with technical terms, the author provides a memorable dispatch on the fate of endangered species.