Forty-five years ago, on December 28th, 1973, President Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act (ESA) into law. Sadly, despite its success and public support, the ESA is under attack like never before.
The ESA was passed in 1973 because Americans believed that protecting our wildlife was an obligation to future generations, our nation’s environmental health, our fellow creatures, and the heart of the American way of life. It included wildlife ranges and habitats irrespective of political boundaries because these habitats, which are vital to species survival, cross arbitrary lines.
With extinction, there is no turning back, no second chance. Thankfully, the ESA has given thousands of at-risk species like the critically endangered Mexican gray wolf (pictured) a second chance. For over four decades the ESA has worked successfully to prevent the extinction of 99% of the species placed under its protection. A national poll conducted in 2015 found that the ESA is supported by 90% of American voters.
Today, the ESA is more important than ever before. New research suggests we are in the midst of a period of heightened biological extinction, with rates several orders of magnitude higher than background rates estimated from the fossil record. Moreover, a shocking 60% of the earth’s mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles have been lost since 1970, according to WWF’s 2018 Living Planet Report.
Given that science has concluded that we have entered an unprecedented period of climate change and human-caused Sixth Mass extinction, one would think the government would pull out all the stops to help imperiled species heal and flourish. Instead, it’s rolling out a series of regulatory changes that threaten to cripple the ESA.
The Fed’s “Extinction Plan” would weaken endangered species protections by:
- Making it more difficult to extend protections to threatened species, delaying lifesaving action until a species’ population is so small it may be challenging or impossible to save
- Exempting climate change from key parts of the law, making it more difficult to protect the polar bear, the bearded seal, and many other imperiled species that are impacted by the effects of climate change
- Requiring economic factors to be analyzed when deciding if a species should be saved
- Making it easier for companies to build roads, pipelines, mines, and other industrial projects in critical habitat areas that are essential to imperiled species’ survival
When President Nixon signed the ESA into law, he said, “Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed.”
Today, it’s essential to remember the values that the government embraced four decades ago by withdrawing its regulatory proposals which seek to undermine the most successful bipartisan pieces of legislation our country has ever adopted.