Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Cave bugs

Bug (Berytidae) from Kansas

The Endangered Species Act gets into complex legal questions. The Supreme Court is mulling over this question: Can Congress use the Commerce Clause to protect endangered species confined to a single state?

Spelunkers are worried about the implications. Environmental groups have their eyes peeled.

Among the endangered species:

I know that was seven, and only six are mentioned in articles, but I'm not sure which of these isn't involved.

The Justice Department has been kind enough to weigh in on behalf of ESA. Not being a lawyer, I can't say whether their argument is wholehearted or not.

This touches on a few points. The ESA justifies regulating these species on the basis of the “web of life.” While these species are restricted to caves entirely within one state, and have no inherent commercial value, they are connected to species which are more widely distributed. That's a sound argument, but a bit worrying. What if you found a cave that was completely sealed off. This is pretty hypothetical, but still. I'm envisioning chemosynthetic bacteria feeding some fish or bugs. If bacteria themselves were entitled to protection, I'd point to Yellowstone, and the bacteria in the hot springs. 50 years ago, they'd have no commercial uses and would be entirely contained in Wyoming.

Then some smart guy used them to find DNA sequences, and invented PCR. Now we sequence genomes, convict criminals, find fathers, and identify our war dead using an enzyme from those bacteria.

On a brief side note: It only made sense to look for a polymerase (Taq-polymerase) in Thermophilus aquaticus because we think humans share an ancestor with that bacterium. Score one more for evolution.

Some creative lawyer has probably tested unknown potential benefit as a Commerce clause argument. It makes sense though, that Congresses powers to promote the useful arts and sciences would extend to this as well.

The counter-argument seems to be that people want to squish them.

San Antonio, Tx” by Frank Black and the Catholics from the album Devil's Workshop (2002, 3:45).