President Nixon declared that, “Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed,” as he signed the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) into law on December 28 at the cusp of the New Year.
Today is the 43rd anniversary of the signing of the ESA into law and it is a good day to pause and reflect on what is and isn’t working with endangered species protections in the United States.
The ESA Prevents Wildlife Extinctions (and Extinction is Forever!)
What is working, for one, is the ESA itself; it has been 99 percent effective at preventing species from being lost from our natural heritage forever. It has also recovered iconic species such as the bald eagle, the peregrine falcon, the American alligator and the California condor.
The ESA not only prevents individual species from going extinct, but also ensures America’s long-term prosperity by safeguarding critical wildlife habitat and creating a healthy environment. People rely on plants and animals for medicine, jobs, recreation, clean water and abundant natural resources.
We can coexist with Wolves and Grizzlies and Panthers and More!
What’s also working with the ESA is Defenders’ coexistence efforts, where we work to create cultural acceptance for wildlife that are often viewed as a threat to people or livestock. For decades, Defenders of Wildlife has been a leader in working with lawmakers, conservation professionals, local communities and private landowners to develop innovative and effective methods for minimizing conflicts. That dedication to coexistence has helped bring back iconic species such as the grizzly and the gray wolf.
Some in Congress are working to Undermine Wildlife Recovery
What’s not working is that some in Congress have put a target on the ESA and on America’s wildlife heritage. While the 93rd Congress developed the comprehensive legislation, the 114th Congress made 127 attempts to dismantle the ESA and other key wildlife protections. Fortunately, Defenders’ has worked tirelessly to head off these assaults on America’s wildlife and we will not give up.
Although a strong majority of Americans still hold the same conservation values that created the ESA decades ago, unrelenting pressure from various commercial industries and political interests continue to threaten this vital piece of environmental legislation, attempting to override or severely weaken the ESA or slash its funding to a point where it can no longer accomplish its goals.
The Sixth Great Extinction
Yet, the Endangered Species Act is as important today as it was when Richard Nixon signed it into law. According to a study published in Science Advances, species could be going extinct at a pace 100 times higher than normal. We may now be witnessing the “Sixth Great Extinction” as a result of habitat loss, invasive species and climate change. As more species are found to warrant listing under the ESA, it is more important than ever that this vital tool for wildlife conservation be kept strong, well-funded, and capable of not only preventing extinctions but also able to put imperiled species back on the road to a successful recovery and to create thriving and stable populations.
Racing Extinction with Innovation
We owe it to ourselves and future generations to be good stewards of the environment and leave behind a legacy of protecting endangered species and the special places they call home. The ESA is our cornerstone conservation law for protecting wildlife and special places for generations to come.