director Blog : Endangered Species Act

Endangered Species Day: A Celebration of Success

LET'S CELEBRATE
We can all be part of local Endangered Species Day events that will educate and motivate others, and we can all work to further the recovery of endangered, threatened and at-risk species.

Today, May 16, is Endangered Species Day, and it is a day to celebrate the amazing conservation successes of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), one of our most vital tools for protecting our nation’s endangered, threatened and at-risk species. 

Our nation’s rich diversity of fish, wildlife, and plant resources symbolizes America’s richness and promise. If we do great harm to the environment in pursuing our ambitions for wealth today, then we run the risk of impoverishing our children and grandchildren tomorrow – not to mention ourselves. 

The ESA represents a firm commitment to safeguard our natural resources not only for future generations but also for the many benefits we gain from healthy ecosystems. 

Fla panther

The Florida panther was federally listed as an endangered species in 1967 and ultimately under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Photo by Larry Richardson/USFWS

And guard our resources it has. The ESA is credited with saving 99 percent of those species listed from extinction. 

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Partners Essential to Recovery, and Other Lessons from the Oregon Chub

On Tuesday, a 3-½ inch minnow found only in Oregon’s Willamette Valley made a big splash.  No longer threatened with extinction, the Oregon chub became the first fish proposed for removal from the Endangered Species list.  

Oregon chub

Oregon chubs swim at Finley National Wildlife Refuge in Corvallis, Oregon. Photo by Rick Swart, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

We listed the Oregon chub as endangered in 1993 for several reasons. Mainly, its native floodplain habitat was disappearing, and the fish was losing out to such nonnative fish as the bass and bluegill. In 1993, just eight known populations with fewer than 1,000 fish were known to exist. Thanks to lots of hard work, the population now stands at more than 150,000 fish at 80 locations. Just stunning! 

The chub’s recovery is something we’re proud of. But what’s even better is how it recovered.

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Endangered Species Act: Succeeding Where Success Seems Improbable

Forty years ago, on December 28, 1973, President Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act into law. The “ESA,” as we commonly refer to it today, was one in a series of cornerstone environmental laws enacted in response to public concern over a series of unfolding environmental crises.  The plight of iconic species in the face of those crises — including bald eagles, peregrine falcons, brown pelicans, gray whales, grizzly bear, manatee and alligators –- helped catalyze that public concern.

Gray whale

Gray whales were was one of the first whales protected from whaling. Photo by Merrill Gosho/NOAA

When it was enacted, it had near unanimous political support, but today, the ESA is, in many regards, the embodiment of the current political divisions that define a national and global struggle between environmental protection and economic development. Aldo Leopold taught us that the essence of “intelligent tinkering” is to “save every cog and wheel.”  It sounds so sensible, but we know that as humans occupy more and more of the planet’s ecological space – consuming more of its resources, altering habitat, moving species, changing the climate itself – that we are far beyond any notion of intelligent tinkering. 

And yet, here is this elegant law, asking us to pause and contemplate the biological consequences of our planetary conquest.  And maybe that’s the real rub.  It’s another inconvenient truth.  We know, in our heart-of-hearts, that we can’t ask the planet to continue giving more people more food, more fuel, more fiber and more fulsome bank accounts, without leaving less and less for the remainder of what we call biological diversity. Wish that it wasn’t so, but it really is.

And into this chasm, the ESA has thrust the women and men of two small but capable organizations: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and NOAA Fisheries. Over the past 40 years, they have made all the difference. Succeeding where success seemed improbable – like bringing wolves back into the American landscape.  They have, quite literally, held life in their hands and minds – like those last few California condors and black-footed ferrets pulled from the wild and into captive breeding. It’s beyond amazing. Actually, it’s inspiring.

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Last updated: August 31, 2011