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The Planet

High Court Rules in Favor of Species Act

Club Members Rally to Strengthen Law

In a year when hostile elements in the 104th Congress have put the Endangered Species Act itself in danger of extinction, Sierra Club members are cheering a recent Supreme Court ruling that upholds the Act - and they're taking to the streets to demonstrate their support for the landmark 1972 law. The Supreme Court this summer decided that habitat protection is critical to the protection of species under the Act. Their ruling in the case of Babbitt v. Sweet Home reversed a previous appellate court decision that concluded that the definition of "harm/take" in the law should include only the direct and intentional killing of a species. "If the appellate court's ruling were allowed to stand, one could cut down the nesting tree of a bald eagle as long as the eagle was not present in the nest, or destroy the breeding grounds of a migratory songbird while the bird was wintering elsewhere," said Melinda Pierce, associate representative in the Sierra Club's Washington, D.C., office. "These scenarios fly in the face of the intent of the law."

The high court's decision followed the release of a National Academy of Science study that concluded that habitat destruction is the most serious threat to endangered species in the United States and that habitat conservation is essential to preserving biological diversity. Meanwhile, more than 400 people took to the streets for a Sierra Club rally at the Maryland capitol building in Annapolis to oppose efforts to gut the Endangered Species Act. Afterward, they took their message inside at a "citizens forum" sponsored by Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.), a champion of the Endangered Species Act. Gilchrest conducted the hearing because the House Endangered Species Task Force - whose hearings were heavily stacked with anti- ESA witnesses - refused to conduct an official meeting about the law in Maryland. "We filled almost every square foot of that hearing chamber with passion for protecting wildlife habitat," said participant Jim Dougherty, conservation chair for the New Columbia Chapter in Washington, D.C. "Those legislators felt the Sierra Club breathing down their necks - literally."

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