“What a country chooses to save is what a country says about itself,” Mollie Beattie, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director 1993-1996.
Forty years ago this month, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”). When signing the ESA into law on December 28, 1973, President Nixon stated, “Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed. It is a many-faceted treasure, of value to scholars, scientists, and nature lovers alive, and it forms a vital part of the heritage we all share as Americans.”
The ESA is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Under the ESA, a species may be listed as either threatened (likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future) or endangered (in danger of extinction). The ESA prohibits the “take,” defined as “to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect or attempt to engage in such conduct,” of any listed species without a permit. The word “harm,” defined as “an act which actually kills or injures wildlife,” has been interpreted by courts to prevent habitat modification and degradation.
More then 1,400 at risk domestic species of plants, fish, and wildlife are protected under the ESA, as well as 600 foreign species (through the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species). Only 10 being delisted due to extinction, giving the ESA a 99% success rate, says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A recent Center for Biological Diversity study found that 90% of the listed species are recovering at the rate projected in their management plans.
To commemorate the anniversary, the Endangered Species Coalition released a new report, “Back From The Brink,” highlighting ten success stories. Featured species include the Bald Eagle, Humpback Whale, and the El Segundo Blue Butterfly, brought almost to the point of extinction by habitat loss, hunting, and climate change, but that have now recovered due to protection under the ESA.
“There is a deep sense that we owe it to our children and grandchildren to be good stewards and protect endangered species and the special places they call home. The Endangered Species Act articulated America’s desire to fulfill that responsibility,” says Leda Huta, director of the Endangered Species Coalition.