The Endangered Species Act (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.
Today, the ESA remains the most important law in the United States for conserving biodiversity and arresting the extinction of species.
Despite its importance, criticism of the law persists - often coming from business and agricultural interests who argue that the ESA’s provisions excessively limit economic interests and development.
To determine the level of American support for the ESA, trust in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and attitudes toward gray wolves, Jeremy T. Bruskotter and his team addressed the following questions in his study published July 19, 2018, in Conservation Letters.
- To what extent do Americans support or oppose the ESA?
- Has support for the ESA changed over time?
- To what extent is opposition to the ESA associated with one’s identification with various special interests?
- Evaluated the idea that long‐term listing of controversial species increases opposition to the ESA, negatively affects trust in agencies charged with its implementation (i.e., FWS, NMFS), and creates resentment toward the species being protected.
The results reflect about four in five Americans support the act and only one in 10 oppose it. Moreover, Bruskotter found that protecting controversial species, including wolves “does not weaken support for protective legislation.”
“In contrast to the often-repeated statement that the Act is controversial, these data suggest that support for the law among the general population is robust and has remained so for at least two decades.” Bruskotter stated in The Conversation
Despite the study’s findings, the Department of the Interior unveiled a proposal Thursday that would strip the ESA of key provisions, a move that will weaken a law enacted 45 years ago to keep plants and animals in decline from going extinct.