An Open Letter to All U.S. Senators

The following is the text of an open letter we have prepared and sent to all U.S. senators of the 104th Congress. We strongly urge others to make their feelings on Senate Bill S-768, the Gorton amendments to the Endangered Species Act. Feel free to model your letter on ours, or better yet, express your opinion in your own words. The important thing is that you let the senators know that you oppose S-768.

Greetings! Recently, through a post on the Internet, we found out about Senate Bill S-768. This bill is a worrisome piece of legislation that is aimed at the very heart of the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Normally, we prefer to distance ourselves from the American political scene. Since some of our acquaintances are members of threatened/endangered species and they cannot voice their concerns, we felt compelled to write. We are therefore mailing a letter to each and every U.S. senator to express our alarm and indignation that such an irresponsible bill could be given serious consideration at all.

Bill S-768 must not be allowed to pass. Bill S-768, in fact, should be treated with the same contempt it heaps on all endangered species and the environment. What follows are the reasons why we oppose (and we hope the Senate will vote down) this particular bill.

Of critical importance is that Bill S-768 proposes to change the definition of "take" by re-defining the word "harm." In the original Endangered Species Act, "take" is defined as "to harrass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, kill, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct."

Senator Gorton and his supporters want to add this little tidbit to the act: "harm" will be redefined to mean "to take a direct action against any member of an endangered species of fish or wildlife that actually injures or kills a member of the species."

It's not hard to figure out where he is going on this one. Since injury and killing are already nicely covered in the original definition, the word Senator Gorton wants to add must be "direct." That would allow the argument that anyone who injures or kills a member of an endangered species by an indirect action, let's say by failing to use a Turtle Excluder Device and thereby drowning turtles, could not be held responsible. With the Gorton changes, such injury or killing would not be considered harm and therefore not considered "take."

In another section of his bill, Gorton added that it isn't considered "take" if the death of an endangered species occurred incidentally to and was not the purpose of an act done while carrying out an otherwise legal activity. Fishing is certainly a legal activity. Certainly drowning sea turtles is not the purpose of fishing. It follows then that such fatalities would not be considered "take."

We will state straight out, we are worried. We are very much interested in sea turtles and their precarious struggle for survival. Senator, there is a species of sea turtle in the Gulf of Mexico called the Kemp's Ridley. It is the most endangered of all. Last summer only 580 females nested where at one time (a single day in 1947) there were 40,000. This turtle in particular already has three flippers tucked over the brink of extinction.

This bill, if passed, leaves opportunity for irresponsible fishing practises. For all sea turtles, but the Kemp's Ridley in particular, this bill will prove fatal.

S-768 would allow shrimp boats to operate without Turtle Excluder Devices. More turtles would drown than ever. Because they would be killed as an indirect consequence of a legal commercial activity, S-768 would not impose any penalty or restriction. This would be true for any other endangered species as well. The threat won't just be limited to the U.S. either.

The U.S. has long been regarded as a global leader in conservation practices. You Americans are very good at telling other countries how to behave responsibly. For example, you tut-tut the Brazilians for clearing their rain forests. You tell the Africans that they shouldn't shoot their few remaining gorillas.

Thing is, if the United States adopts S-768, which waters down the Endangered Species Act to such a shameful degree, other countries won't feel compelled to behave responsibly either. Bill S-768 will have global environmental repercussions.

A nation is judged in many ways, not the least being how they treat those less fortunate and less powerful.

Believe us when we say, few things are less fortunate and less powerful than sea turtles. They don't get the high profile press that whales and dolphins do. They aren't cuddly and cutesy like baby seals and panda bears. Worse, they are reptiles and humans tend to find them a tad icky.

We are here to tell you they are truly gentle, admirable creatures who prefer nothing more than a good meal and nice weather. That makes them a lot like humans. They deserve their place in the sun just like we do.

Please help to scuttle Bill S-768.

Senator Slade Gorton, a Threat to All Marine Life

Table of Contents

Turtle Trax Home Page

Last modified 99/06/05
Send comments or corrections to