We Need the Endangered Species Act Now More Than Ever

Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service | CC BY 2.0

Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service | CC BY 2.0

The recent Republican led effort to scale back the Endangered Species Act is entirely predicated on false assumptions and has no basis in science. 

On February 15, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held hearings on legislation to strip the Endangered Species Act of its effectiveness, making it more difficult to add species to the list.

“Listing under the ESA provides species with an array of regulatory and non-regulatory benefits, including recovery plans, protection from unauthorized take, protection of critical habitat, scientific research, captive breeding, public education, and habitat restoration and acquisition,” found a 2005 study conducted by Executive Director of the Center for Biological Diversity. Several other studies have all come to the same consensus that is widely accepted by wildlife management experts, that the Endangered Species Act is an effective tool to protect and save endangered species.” The longer species were listed, the more likely they were to be improving and the less likely to be declining, suggesting that ESA conservation measures act cumulatively over time. This correlation included any beneficial effect due to recovery plans and critical habitat, which were also more likely to be present for species listed for a longer time.”

Calls to scale back or repeal the endangered species act are ignorant to the mass extinction occurring all over our planet. A growing consensus among the scientific community is that Earth has entered a new mass extinction on Earth, dubbed the Anthropocene, a new epoch in geologic history. The rate of extinction on Earth has increased by 1000 times the natural rate. Repealing the endangered species act would  catalyze this downward trajectory for life on Earth.

The CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, Jamie Rappaport Clark, testified at the Senate Hearing on the ESA that “for more than 40 years, the ESA has been successful, bringing the bald eagle, the American alligator, the Stellar sea lion, the peregrine falcon, and numerous other species back from the brink of extinction,” she said. “Based on data from the (Fish and Wildlife Service), the ESA has saved 99 percent of listed species from extinction.”

Republicans have focused on critiquing the regulations that the Endangered Species Act imposes on corporations and development. House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) reportedly wants to repeal the act completely, arguing that “it has never been used for the rehabilitation of species” but instead has “been used to control the land.” This claim demonstrates a gross negligence to the endangered species act, which protects hundreds of species found outside the United States and its waters, including nearly 100 aquatic species within the United States.

These Republicans have failed to cite one example of an endangered species’ protection and recovery plan causing economic harm. Their apprehension to attack a specific endangered species highlights the baseless argument they use to try to substantiate their claims for repealing the Endangers Species Act.

Species aren’t frivolously listed as endangered, but designated as such as a last resort to prevent their extinction. It is a check and balance for nature on the aggressive expansion of land development and human impact. If the current trends are any indication, efforts should be made to strengthen and expand protections under the Endangered Species Act, not repealing and scaling them back.

Weekend Edition
February 21, 2020
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