Klamath Farmers and Cappuccino Cowboys: The Rhetoric of the Endangered Species Act and Why it (Still) Matters

82 Pages Posted: 21 Oct 2004


This Article traces and analyzes the negative, lasting impact of political rhetoric on the Endangered Species Act. The discourse surrounding the Act is consistent in its themes, assumptions, and images, and it is seductively powerful. Taking the form of stories and slogans or catchphrases, this rhetoric paints a picture of imbalance, pitting humans and their prosperity against endangered species and their protection. The political rhetoric has spurred a reform movement to solve the problems that the stories portray. In this way, it influences proposed legislation, regulations, and day-to-day operations of the Executive Branch. Yet, the solutions to these problems are ill-advised for several reasons. First, they seek to address problems that do not exist. The stories are misleading; important facts and contexts are omitted. Moreover, they seek to create a new property entitlement for a select segment of the public while at the same time undermining the values that undergird the Endangered Species Act. And because much of the change occurs within the agency's day-to-day routine, it escapes public scrutiny, not being subject to Congressional debate or notice and comment rulemaking procedures. Thus, it is important to recognize the deflection of the issues, to challenge the rhetoric, and ultimately to develop alternative, expanded narratives that reflect the values of the broader public with respect to species protection.

Keywords: endangered species act, legislation, rhetoric, administrative law

Suggested Citation

Burke, Marcilynn A., Klamath Farmers and Cappuccino Cowboys: The Rhetoric of the Endangered Species Act and Why it (Still) Matters. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=607863

Marcilynn A. Burke (Contact Author)

University of Houston Law Center ( email )

4604 Calhoun Road
Houston, TX 77204-6060
United States

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