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Expert Voices

Wildlife laws aren't ready for the return of extinct species

Our Expert Voices conversation on de-extinction.

"De-extinction" raises fundamental questions about the relationship between humans and nature and how the law can better manage that relationship.

The issues: Introduction of a de-extinct species could improve the function of ecosystems and related technologies may help to protect endangered species. It could also illustrate the capacity of humans to repair ecological damage. But careful management would be expensive, and such introductions would often carry increased risks and uncertainties while potentially diverting resources from other urgent conservation efforts.

An antiquated framework: Existing wildlife laws remain premised on outdated assumptions of nature as static and divisible from human activity, habitually privileging what are identified as natural and/or native over human-aided and/or exotic species. Accordingly, de-extinct species may be blocked in a particular area as a "non-native" or introduced species, even if they would promote ecological function. But they may be promoted where they used to exist, even if now incompatible.

Bottom line: Policymakers need to adjust legal frameworks to be less dependent on simplistic dualisms in favor of cautious risk assessment and adaptive management that recognizes the dynamism of nature and humanity's indivisibility from it.

Other voices in the conversation:

Joseph Bennett, biologist, Carleton University: Keep animals from going extinct in the first place

Molly Hardesty-Moore, ecologist, University of California, Santa Barbara: Don't forget an extinct creature's ecology

Ben J. Novak, biologist, The Great Passenger Pigeon Comeback: De-extinction is like any other conservation program

John Hawks, paleoanthropologist, University of Wisconsin-Madison: Bringing back Neanderthals