When the US Congress passed the Endangered Species Act in 1973, it did so in the belief that threats to emblematic creatures like bison or commercial crops such as fish could be resolved simply by placing limits on hunting and trade. Few lawmakers could have foreseen how the implementation of that law would change over the years, as the directive to save seemingly insignificant species would extend to the protection of entire ecosystems. As the courts have interpreted the law in the light of a better understanding of science, the ESA increasingly has become a tool used to block development projects and restrict private land use.
Shannon Petersen has written a political and legal history of the Endangered Species Act that explains how and why this piece of legislation has become so controversial: a law hailed by many as one of the most intelligent ever written, reviled by as many as an ill-conceived impediment to progress. Others have recorded the ESA's relationship to the emergence of modern environmentalism; Petersen now addresses the legal history of the Act, showing how the courts created a far more powerful law than Congress originally envisioned and profoundly influenced environmental policy during the last decades of the twentieth century.
A lucid account of how the Endangered Species Act came about, why it generates such controversy, and what it holds for the future. - Bruce Babbitt, former U.S. Secretary of the Interior "A readable, analytical legal history that will appeal to scholars, policymakers, and environmentalists interested in the preservation of species." - History: Reviews of New Books "A welcome addition on an important topic." - Environmental History "A perfect text for graduate and undergraduate classes in environmental policy or history." - Perspectives on Political Science"
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