Do you believe everything you hear on the radio or read in the newspaper about the ESA?
See below for the facts relating to some common myths about the ESA.
This information is brought to you by the Alaska Region of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Who the ESA Benefits
MYTH: "Saving species is only important to conservationists."
FACT: There are many tangible benefits from working to save species from extinction that are important to everyone. Let's look at a few of the things wild plants and animals do for us:
- provide food, fuel, protection, medicine
- provide economic benefit
- play an important role in ecosystems
- inspire us with their beauty
- help us understand our world and how it works
- alert us to problems in the environment
One can justify protecting species because of the tangible benefits that they provide to us, or one can believe that all species have a right to coexist with humans. Either rationale would compel people to care about saving species.
MYTH: "Life was better for the average American before we had all these environmental laws."
FACT: Environmental laws were passed for the protection and well-being of all Americans. For example, the Endangered Species Act not only provides a critical safety net for America's native fish, wildlife and plants by supporting the health of threatened and endangered species and their habitats, it also is linked to our own well-being through clean air and water, subsistence, and recreational opportunities. By taking action to help our threatened and endangered plants and animals, we can ensure a healthy future for our country.
As a further example of an environmental law that benefits people, an analysis of the Clean Air Act found that improvement of air quality reduced infant and adult mortalities, chronic bronchitis, asthma cases, emergency room visits, school days lost, and work days lost. Air visibility has improved and ozone levels have been reduced. It is estimated that by 2020 the Clean Air Act Amendments will prevent over 230,000 early deaths (1). This is good news for everyone.
The Clean Water Act (CWA), restores and maintains the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation's waters by preventing pollution, providing assistance to publicly owned treatment works for the improvement of wastewater treatment, and maintaining the integrity of wetlands. Having clean water is essential for our good health and for the health of aquatic ecosystems. In many places around the country, reducing water pollution has allowed for the recovery of natural areas that support the economies and cultures of big cities and small towns. As these waters are restored, Americans benefit from opportunities for fishing, swimming, and other recreation, and communities benefit from the economic value and improved quality of life that clean waters provide.
1. U.S. EPA Office of Air and Radiation. 2011. Summary Report. 35 pp.
MYTH: "We can't afford the ESA in a weak economy, it kills jobs!"
FACT: A healthy economy and a healthy environment go hand-in-hand. Alaskans depend on habitat that sustains endangered species – for clean air and water, recreational opportunities and for their livelihoods. By taking action to protect native fish, wildlife and plants, we can ensure a healthy future for our communities. Our Nation's history is deeply rooted in the conservation of our landscapes, and their value to the American people and the economy is clear. The claims that the ESA kills jobs have been countered by numerous research papers. For example, according to Stephen Meyer in his 1995 paper, The Economic Impact of the Endangered Species Act on the Agricultural Sector, "The assertion that the Endangered Species Act has harmed the American farmer, hobbled agricultural production, and decimated the forest industry is baseless." Meyer also write in his 1997-1998 paper The Economic Impact of the Endangered Species Act on the Housing and Real Estate Markets that "Analysis of timber prices, timber production, housing construction, housing prices, and real estate industry performance show that the ESA has not burdened state real estate markets or the home building industry." Not only is the Endangered Species Act not a job-killer, it has actually helped promote more sustainable management of vital natural resources across the country.
MYTH: "Biologists want more listed species because it gives them job security."
FACT: No FWS biologist wants more listed species, because it means these species are at risk of extinction. We base our listing decisions on the best available scientific and commercial data available. Increasing the number of listed species has nothing to do with biologists' job security.
MYTH: "Endangered species biologists want to list species because it means more money for them."
FACT: Biologists who work in Vermont where there are only 5 listed species get the same pay as those in Hawaii where there are more than 350. Federal biologists who work on stream restoration, in a fish hatchery, or on threatened and endangered species all get paid according to the same General Schedule. There is no award or reward to a biologist, a field office, or the Service for listing a species.
MYTH: "The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service only reviews a species for possible listing as endangered or threatened when we receive a petition asking us to."
FACT: Since 2007, in addition to the petitions we've received and evaluated, the Service also initiated assessments of four other species. We determined that these four species did not meet the criteria for listing as endangered or threatened, and they were not elevated to candidate status.
MYTH: "Under the ESA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must list a species as endangered or threatened if any citizen or group petitions us to do so."
FACT: Anyone may petition the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list a species, but the decision rests with the Fish and Wildlife Service and is based on the best available science.
MYTH: "Under the ESA, anyone may petition the FWS to list a species as endangered or threatened, and the FWS must list it, even if it's a common or absurd species."
FACT: The FWS has received petitions for some species that clearly do not merit being protected under the ESA (e.g., humans). In some cases, we simply send a letter explaining why the species does not meet the criteria for being listed as endangered or threatened. In other cases, we conduct a basic review of the available information to determine whether a more thorough review is needed. In all cases, the FWS is not forced to list anything and instead makes an independent decision that is based on the best available science.
MYTH: "Federal biologists twist facts to get species listed, saying an animal is rare where it's plentiful and saying it exists where it doesn't."
FACT: Federal biologists are held to a high standard and their work must withstand several levels of review within and outside the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Under the Endangered Species Act, decisions are based on the best available scientific and commercial information. For every species that may become listed we must first publish in the Federal Register a "proposed" rule in the Federal Register, which is available for review and comment by every American. This provides the opportunity for interested parties to make sure we have correctly characterized the species' biology and the threats to that species. We also conduct a peer review process with scientific experts outside the Service. Our work is carefully scrutinized because interest groups sometimes believe our decisions are either too conservative or not conservative enough. All of the information upon which we base our decision is available for the public to view. Scientific integrity is extremely important to the Service; breaches in scientific protocol, impartiality, and factual reporting are serious offenses.
MYTH: "The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service always makes positive findings on all petitions it receives to list a species as endangered or threatened."
FACT: Since 2000, the FWS Alaska Region has received nine petitions to list species as endangered or threatened. Of those, we made "not substantial" 90-day findings for three of them (33% of the total), which means that the species will not be listed as endangered or threatened. Of the remaining petitioned species, two have been listed, three are candidates, and one is still undergoing review.
MYTH: "Listing of a species under the ESA means that all subsistence hunting for the species must stop."
FACT: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognizes the importance of subsistence as a way of life by rural Alaskans and works with our partners to maintain healthy populations of fish and wildlife. The ESA contain exemptions for subsistence hunting, even for threatened and endangered species. Under 10(e) of the ESA, the exemption applies to an Alaskan Native who resides in Alaska or any non-native permanent resident of an Alaskan native village. The exemption applies as long as the taking is primarily for subsistence purposes and doesn't negatively affect the threatened or endangered species.
MYTH: "No listed species have ever recovered since the ESA was passed in 1973."
FACT: Twenty-seven species have recovered and been removed from the endangered species list; three of these [Aleutian Canada (cackling) goose, American peregrine falcon, Arctic peregrine falcon] occur in Alaska. Hundreds more have been saved from extinction.
MYTH: "The Endangered Species Act is not working."
FACT: Conservation actions carried out in the United States under the Endangered Species Act have been successful in preventing extinction for 99 percent of the species that are listed as endangered or threatened. Since the ESA was enacted in 1973, 25 species have been recovered to the point that ESA protection is no longer necessary for their survival--three of these species [Aleutian Canada (crackling) goose, Arctic peregrine falcon, American peregrine falcon] occur in Alaska. However, the number of species delisted due to recovery is not a complete measure of the ESA's success. The ESA has prevented hundreds of species from becoming extinct, stabilized the populations of many others, and set many species on the track to recovery. Each outcome is a true measure of success.
MYTH: "Recovering endangered species is such a complex and expensive process that it is nearly impossible."
FACT: Recovering endangered species takes time, but it works! Twenty-seven species have recovered and been removed from the endangered species list; 3 of these [Aleutian Canada (cackling) goose, American peregrine falcon, Arctic peregrine falcon] occur in Alaska.
MYTH: "Why can't we move endangered species from places where there might be plenty of them (like Canada and Alaska) into the Lower 48 where populations are depleted?"
FACT: On occasion, we do consider reintroduction as a recovery option. However, there are many reasons why moving endangered species from one place to another is not usually the first choice. One of the biggest reasons is that the focus of the ESA is to conserve listed species and the ecosystems on which they depend, so our first priority is always to try to conserve the species where they occur. Protecting their habitat is one of the most important ways we achieve this. Moving species also has inherent risks, both in terms of the actual transport, as well as the species' ability to survive in unfamiliar habitats. We also have to consider what effects the relocated species may have on native species that already occur in the area. Moving endangered species is a possible tool in our efforts to recover these species, but these other issues must be carefully considered before we pursue this approach.
MYTH: "The way to determine the total cost of recovering an endangered species is to add up the costs of all tasks in a recovery plan."
FACT: The additive total of tasks in a recovery plan does not represent the cost of recovering a species. Certain recovery tasks are identified as essential to prevent extinction or to prevent the species from declining irreversibly, and the cost of these tasks is a subset of the costs of all recovery plan tasks. As we proceed down the road to recovery, we may find one or two positive actions, or the elimination of one important threat provides such beneficial results that not all the tasks listed in the plan are needed. That is why it's important for us to monitor the results of our actions and adapt our management in response.
How ESA Protection Applies
MYTH: "The Endangered Species Act was intended to protect mammals, birds, and fish; not insects and plants."
FACT: The ESA clearly defines what it is meant to protect in section 3(8) and (13). The term "fish or wildlife" means any member of the animal kingdom, including any migratory, nonmigratory, or endangered bird for which protection is also afforded by treaty or other international agreement, amphibian, reptile, mollusk, crustacean, arthropod or other invertebrate. "Plant" is defined as any member of the plant kingdom, including seeds, roots, and other parts. In section 2(b) the ESA also states "The purposes of this Act are to provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species depend may be conserved." Congress was very clear in defining what species they intended to protect when they passed the ESA and protection of ecosystems was equally important.
MYTH: "My great-grandfather shot a polar bear in 1919. If the government finds out I have the hide they'll take it away and arrest me."
FACT: Your great-grandfather shot the polar bear before the Endangered Species Act was enacted in 1973 and before the species was listed as threatened in 2008. There is no penalty for possession of threatened or endangered species that were killed before they were legally protected, as long as the animal was hunted legally at the time. However, if you want to take the hide out of State, you should contact the local U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Law Enforcement office to find out about any permits you may need.
MYTH: "Listed species within critical habitat receive more protection those outside of critical habitat."
FACT: Listed species receive all of the ESA's protections whether or not critical habitat is designated. Critical habitat helps to identify what habitat areas and habitat elements are especially important to the species.
MYTH: "A species listed as a candidate is treated the same way as a listed species and has all the protections provided to a listed species under the ESA."
FACT: Candidate species have no legal protection under the ESA. Listing a candidate does indicate that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has enough information to indicate that the species needs protection, and we encourage our partners to consider candidate species in the projects they propose, but there is no legal requirement to do so.
MYTH: "The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does not consider how endangered species conservation efforts may affect people."
FACT: Although we are required under the Endangered Species Act to base our decisions on the best scientific and commercial data available, we also recognize the importance of communicating with and considering possible impacts to people when we make endangered species conservation decisions. In addition, every time we propose to designate critical habitat, we must evaluate the economic costs of that designation.
MYTH: "The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can achieve endangered species protection and recovery working alone."
FACT: We depend on cooperative relationships with a wide variety of partners to conserve endangered species. Every aspect of the Endangered Species Act involves some type of partnership, with other Federal and State agencies, and with private landowners. To see examples of the work we do with partners visit our website http://www.fws.gov/endangered/what-we-do/partners.html
MYTH: "The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ignores Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and does not coordinate with Native American Tribes when making ESA decisions."
FACT: In Alaska, the FWS works closely with Alaska Natives in our work under the ESA and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and we value the TEK they provide. For example, we rely on Alaska Native hunters to gather information on subsistence harvest. In addition, as part of the process to determine whether to list polar bears as threatened, we sought expertise in TEK from internationally recognized Native organizations, and received and reviewed comments from individuals with TEK on both climate change and polar bears.
MYTH: "If an endangered species is found on my property the government will take it over!"
FACT: The government has no interest in taking over private property because an endangered species occurs there. The presence of a listed species on your property does not preclude projects or activities from happening on your land and does not grant access to your land by Federal employees. Permission for access must be requested and granted. We hope you would work with your local State and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists to understand how to best protect or even enhance the habitat for the listed species.
MYTH: "People have lost their homes because of the discovery of endangered species on their property."
FACT: There is no reason a person would lose their home because an endangered species is on their property and we know of no situations in which this has occurred. It is illegal to harm or kill a threatened or endangered species whether it is on private or public land. However, even if a threatened or endangered species were inadvertently harmed on private land, it would not lead to the eviction of a homeowner from his or her home or property. Projects can occur on private land and if it is anticipated that a threatened or endangered species may be harmed, the landowner can work with a local U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist to find the best solution.
MYTH: "If I find an endangered species on my land, the feds will control my life."
FACT: If you find an endangered species on your land, it means that the habitat is healthy enough to support a rare species and you may get to observe a plant or animal that few other people have the opportunity to see. Presence of a listed species on your land does not preclude projects or activities from happening on your land and does not grant access to your land by Federal employees. Permission for access must be requested and granted. We hope you would work with your local State and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists to understand how to best protect or even enhance the habitat for the listed species.
MYTH: "If you find an endangered species on your property, the best solution is 'shoot, shovel, and shut up.'"
FACT: If you were to find an endangered species on your property, you are incredibly lucky. The fact that a species is endangered typically means that there are very few individuals of that species left on the planet and you have the rare opportunity to see something few others will be able to experience. Under ideal circumstances, you would work with your local State and Federal biologists to understand how to best protect or even enhance the habitat for the listed species. Our Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program will provide funds to private landowners for qualified projects that enhance habitat. There are other tools such as Candidate Conservation Agreements and
Safe Harbor Agreements that allow property development on private land where listed or candidate species occur.Regardless of the presence of a listed species, it is still your property and you may continue to use it as you wish provided that your activities do not intentionally harm, harass, or kill a listed species as they are protected by law (these actions are called "take"). "Take" can be authorized by working with biologists in your local U.S. Fish and Wildlife office.
MYTH: "Designation of critical habitat means that there are extra restrictions on what private landowners can do on their own land."
FACT: If no Federal projects occur, no Federal funds are expended, and no Federal permits are required on the private land, then critical habitat does not cause restrictions on what the private landowner can do on his/her own property. The designation of critical habitat does not give the Federal government control over the actions of private citizens on their own land.
MYTH: "Designation of critical habitat stops or prevents development in that area."
FACT: If an area is designated as critical habitat, it does not mean that there is a ban on development or changes to that area. It is a reminder to Federal agencies that they must take care to protect the characteristics of these areas that are important to the listed species. No projects in Alaska have been stopped or prevented from occurring because of the ESA.
MYTH: "The ESA creates highly restrictive requirements on oil and gas development in Alaska that adds millions to development costs."
FACT:We have worked effectively with the oil and gas industry for decades to conserve Alaska's species and minimize disruption to industry activities. As an example, in the spring of 2011, a polar bear emerged from her den unexpectedly near an oil industry site. The producer immediately contacted us and we worked together to determine the appropriate measures that would protect the bear and allow industry activities to continue.
MYTH: "The ESA is an impediment to free enterprise and is used as a vehicle for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to stop development or usurp private property rights."
FACT: Under the ESA, there are many opportunities for cooperation between private corporations, private landowners, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. If planning efforts consider endangered species issues early in the process, it gives everyone the most flexibility to make recommendations and project modifications that will minimize the potential negative impacts to listed species. In the vast majority of cases, we are able to find a way for proposed projects to proceed without causing undue adverse effects to the species. In fact, the ESA has not stopped any projects in Alaska and three Alaskan species [Aleutian Canada (cackling) goose, Arctic peregrine falcon, American peregrine falcon] have recovered and been removed from the endangered species list.
MYTH: "Red tape created by the ESA is stopping development in Alaska."
FACT: Since 2002, we have reviewed over 5,500 projects under the ESA, including oil and gas exploration, drilling, mining, construction, port development, timber harvest, and energy projects. No projects in Alaska have been stopped or had major modifications because of the ESA.
MYTH: "Endangered Species Act requirements to consider the effects of proposed projects on listed species add major time delays to any planning process."
FACT: In Alaska, the vast majority of proposed projects evaluated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act are reviewed and analyzed within 30 days or otherwise established deadlines.
MYTH: "Designation of critical habitat is a Federal land grab."
FACT: Designation of critical habitat does not transfer land to the Federal government or change land ownership or jurisdiction in any way. It does not establish a refuge, preserve, or other conservation area, nor does it allow the Federal government or the public access to private lands.
MYTH: "Designation of critical habitat creates a Federal refuge or preserve in which no activities may occur."
FACT: Only activities that involve a Federal permit, license, or funding, and are likely to destroy or adversely modify critical habitat are affected. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works with the Federal agency and, where appropriate, private or other landowners to amend their project to allow it to proceed without adversely affecting the critical habitat. Activities that don't destroy or adversely modify the habitat are not affected. The truth is that many activities other than species protection occur in critical habitat on public land. No projects in Alaska have been stopped or had major modifications because of the ESA.
MYTH: "People fighting forest fires have died because firefighters were restricted as a result of endangered species being in the area."
FACT: Protection of human life is always the most important consideration in any emergency situation, including forest fires. Under no circumstances is the welfare of listed species put ahead of protection of human life and property. No personnel have ever died because of ESA restrictions. We consult with Federal agencies in an effort to minimize the potential effects their emergency response actions may have on listed species, but human safety always comes first.
Government & Legal
MYTH: "The ESA is a partisan creation."
FACT: The Endangered Species Act was passed in its current form in 1973 by a vote of 355 to 4 in the House of Representatives and by a voice vote in the Senate. President Richard Nixon signed the legislation. The Endangered Species Act clearly had the overwhelming support of both Republicans and Democrats and is recognized as important legislation for all Americans.
MYTH: "My tax dollars are being wasted on species that I'll never even see. How is that fair?"
FACT: When the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973, Congress determined that "…these species of fish, wildlife, and plants are of esthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational, and scientific value to the Nation and its people." These species are an important part of our nation's rich biological treasure. Endangered species depend on clean air, clean water, and a healthy environment, just as we all do. Protecting these species and their habitats provides value, even if you never see them.
MYTH: "The public does not have any opportunities to participate in ESA decision processes."
FACT: The FWS has increased its efforts to involve the public in ESA decision processes. There are opportunities for public comment during the process to determine whether a species should be added to the endangered and threatened species list, whether to reintroduce a nonessential population, and during the process to determine how to best recover a listed species. We continue to explore ways to involve the public more fully in ESA issues.
MYTH: "The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the only Federal agency involved in conserving endangered species."
FACT: Although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Department of the Interior) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (Department of Commerce) are the primary Federal agencies with specific responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act, all Federal agencies share in the responsibility to conserve endangered species [ESA section 2(c)(1) and section 7(a)(1)].
MYTH: "If a marine mammal becomes listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act, substantial compliance requirements are added to existing Marine Mammal Protection Act responsibilities."
FACT: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska has integrated Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act compliance responsibilities to create a more efficient process and reduce duplication of effort.
MYTH: "Agencies enforce the Endangered Species Act to further their environmental agendas."
FACT: Two agencies have primary authority to enforce the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. However, as described in section 7 of the ESA, all Federal agencies are required to utilize their authorities in support of the Act by carrying out programs to conserve listed species. This includes agencies such as the Department of Defense and the Army Corps of Engineers. Federal agencies do not have environmental agendas but they do have "missions." Our government has created Federal agencies to ensure that all Americans have clean water, clean air, uncontaminated soil, and access to public lands for recreation; environmental attributes that are key to our quality of life. Maintaining a diversity of plants and animals and the ecosystems upon which they depend is in part accomplished by the ESA, and is an indicator of our success in maintaining a healthy environment.
MYTH: "The ESA is run by bureaucrats in Washington D.C. who have no idea how things really are in Alaska and the American West."
FACT: The FWS Alaska Region, not bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., manages ESA issues in the State. We have offices throughout Alaska, from the Regional Office in Anchorage to Field Offices in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, and Kenai, and National Wildlife Refuges from Arctic NWR on the north coast of the State to Alaska Maritime NWR, which encompasses a huge area of coastal Alaska, including the Aleutian Islands chain. Many of our biologists and managers have lived and worked in the State for more than 20 years, and have a wealth of knowledge on how things work in Alaska.
MYTH: "The ESA allows the views of bureaucrats in eastern cities to trump those of the people who actually live and work on the land."
FACT: The ESA is an Act of Congress that was passed to protect imperiled species for the benefit of all Americans, now and in the future. The Act is applied equally across the Nation and the views of bureaucrats in the Eastern, Mid-West, or Western States do not influence how the regulations associated with the Act are applied at the local level. There is one set of regulations and two Federal agencies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, are responsible for making sure the protective measures of the Act are implemented appropriately.
MYTH: "Lawsuits by environmentalists requiring the FWS to designate critical habitat distract the agency and drain resources from conservation."
FACT: According to an August, 2005 study by a professor at Vermont Law School, most critical habitat litigation comes from industry, not environmental groups. The study concluded that "industry lawsuits seeking to undo critical habitat designations now account for over 80% of the active cases." Critical habitat is one of the two largest categories of ESA litigation.
MYTH: "Litigation dictates all priorities of the endangered species program in Alaska."
FACT: Although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska does have some specific deadlines and actions that are required as a result of litigation (e.g., listing and critical habitat actions, some section 7 consultations), we establish our own priorities for much of the endangered species program in Alaska.
MYTH: "Judges always give deference to the Federal government's position during ESA court cases."
FACT: The government is only given deference when we have done a good job of describing the basis for our decision. If we clearly explain the information we considered (including addressing inconsistencies, differing interpretations, and data gaps), show a reasonable connection between the information considered and our recommended course of action, and articulate the rationale for our conclusion, then courts will generally defer to our decisions.
MYTH: "Endangered species are no longer functioning components of their ecosystem."
FACT: Many endangered and threatened species are fully functioning components of their ecosystems. In fact, some play a pivotal role; such as listed butterflies that pollinate plant species, listed bats that control insects, and a variety of listed species that play important prey or predator roles in their ecosystems.
MYTH: "If a species is threatened with extinction, isn't that just biology at work in the natural world?"
FACT: Although we agree species do go extinct in the "natural" world, humans are having an increasingly larger impact on that world. There are over 6billion people on earth and at current rates there will be 8 billion by 2020. On a planet with limited resources it is increasingly difficult to provide for the needs of people and all other species. Many scientists suggest that we may be entering a period of time dubbed the "sixth great extinction" in which the actions of humans, not natural physical events, are driving extinctions through overharvest, the spread of disease and invasive species, habitat loss and fragmentation, and climate change (1,2,3,4). When species have adapted and evolved in the past it occurred when the change occurred slowly. When change occurred quickly, there were massive extinctions. The current rate of change in natural habitats and climate is accelerated and may surpass species' ability to adapt, leading to an accelerated rate of extinctions. Through the Endangered Species Act we have the opportunity to identify species at risk of extinction and protect the ecosystems upon which they depend. It is in our best interest to keep ecosystems as healthy and diverse as possible because humans depend on them as well.
- Barnosky et al. 2011. Has the Earth's sixth mass extinction already arrived? Nature. 471:51-57.
- Leakey, R.E. and R. Lewin. 1996. The Sixth Extinction: Patterns of Life and the Future of Humankind. Random House, New York.
- Novacek. M.J. 2007. Terra: our 100-million-year-old ecosystem –and the threats that now put it at risk. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York.
- Wake, D.B. and V.T. Vrendenbur. 2008. Are we in the midst of the sixth mass extinction? A view from the world of amphibians. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. 105:11466-11473.
MYTH: "The Endangered Species Act is contrary to natural selection, since it helps the weak survive."
FACT: The ESA protects species from changes that have occurred or are occurring to them or their environment, which in turn may lead to their extinction. The purpose of the Act is to protect species, not individuals that may be old, deformed, or sick. These individuals will die from natural causes whether they are listed or not. Few would argue that listed species such as whales, wolves, salmon, or sea turtles, or recovered species such as bald eagles are inherently "weak." They would thrive if their populations had not been decimated through harvest, loss of habitat, competition with invasive species, or the negative effects of contaminants. These species need the protection of the ESA because without that protection they would go extinct; not because they are fatally flawed or weak, but because humans have had a major impact on their populations, either directly or indirectly. Healthy wildlife populations and ecosystems are indicators of a healthy environment, which is also healthy for humans and beneficial to our well-being.
MYTH: "Extinction is a natural process and it is nothing to worry about."
FACT: Extinction is a normal process, but the current rate of extinction far exceeds what has historically occurred. For example, we are losing amphibians at a rate 200 times faster than the historical level. Many scientists are concerned that we may be entering a period of mass extinction. The environment is changing so rapidly that species don't have time to adapt. Some of these species may have unknown future benefits to humans in the fields of medicine or agriculture.
MYTH: "The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is using speculative models to list species because of climate change."
FACT: The Service always uses the best available science to make its decisions. Scientists from around the world agree that climate change is occurring, and climate impacts have already been documented in Alaska. For example, Arctic ice is diminishing, air temperatures over the ocean and land are warmer, permafrost depth and extent are decreasing, ocean temperatures are warmer, coastal erosion is accelerating, and terrestrial vegetation is changing. When we evaluate a species for listing we must consider if threats will decrease or increase in the future. Models help us understand what to expect in the future, and have been used for many years to inform decisions on subjects ranging from insurance rates to weather forecasts. We may use models as one of the tools to inform endangered species listing decisions.
MYTH: "The ESA is geared toward protection of single species and does not consider the need to protect ecosystems."
FACT: The purpose of the ESA is to conserve listed species
and their ecosystems. Everything the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does focuses on ecosystem protection. For example, when we learned that DDT was poisoning ecosystems and resulting in declines of peregrine falcons and other bird species, we supported efforts to ban the use of DDT in the U.S. Since then, the American falcon and Arctic peregrine falcon have both recovered and been removed from the endangered species list.
MYTH: "Biology is not a concrete science. For every biologist that believes a species is in trouble there's another who knows the species is doing just fine."
FACT: It's true that biologists may have different interpretations of a species' status. To address this possibility, ESA processes include opportunities for people to provide their different viewpoints. For example, the process of deciding to add a species to the endangered species list involves publication in the Federal Register of a "proposed" rule, which is available for review and comment by every American. This provides the opportunity for interested parties to make sure we have correctly characterized the species' biology and the threats to that species. We also conduct a peer review process with scientific experts outside the Service. Our work is carefully scrutinized because interest groups sometimes believe our decisions are either too conservative or not conservative enough. All of the information upon which we base our decision is available for the public to view.
MYTH: "Polar bear populations are doing fine. The species should not have been listed. There is little evidence that polar bears are threatened with extinction now or in the future.
FACT: Of the 19 subpopulations of polar bear, 6 are decreasing and 8 have an unknown trend. Only 1 is increasing in size, and 4 are stable. Loss of sea ice, now and in the future, is a threat to the species that we expect will put the species at risk of extinction as sea ice loss accelerates.
MYTH: "Given that the polar bear is listed as threatened because of loss of habitat due to climate change, how can you protect it while ignoring greenhouse gas emissions?
FACT: We agree that the biggest threat to polar bear is the loss of sea ice caused by a changing climate, and we can't ignore that fact. Ultimately, controlling green house gas emissions is critical. However, until the nations around the globe agree to make the necessary changes to control green house gas emissions, we can still take actions in the short-term to give polar bears the best chance of survival in the long-term. For example, we can reduce conflicts between humans and polar bears when they come to land; ensure they have undisturbed denning habitat; and provide protection from pollution. We have to focus on what we can do to keep the populations as robust as possible until the larger issue of loss of sea ice loss can be addressed.
MYTH: "If most predictions indicate that there would be remnant polar bear populations in icy refugia even under some of the most dire climate projections, why is the bear listed as threatened?
FACT: Having a few polar bears in remnant populations does not provide protection from extinction. Small populations are very vulnerable to chance events that can decimate or eliminate the population. Factors such as disease or extreme weather events, which a large population can withstand, can be insurmountable for small populations. In addition, the smaller the population, the greater the chance of a genetic "bottleneck" and associated problems caused by inbreeding. These genetic issues can compromise the polar bear's ability to survive in the long-term. There are many factors to take into account as population size gets smaller and smaller. To avoid extinction, our best strategy is to maintain populations as large as possible over as much of the polar bear range as possible.
MYTH: "The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be adding the Kittlitz's murrelet, yellow-billed loon, and Pacific walrus to the endangered species list within the next few years.
FACT: Under a 2011 settlement agreement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska must make a decision on whether
or not to propose these species for listing as endangered or threatened,
or withdraw them from the candidate list, by the following deadlines: Kittlitz's murrelet – September 2013; yellow-billed loon - September 2014, and Pacific walrus - September 2017.
MYTH: "ESA has prevented wood bison from being reintroduced into Alaska
FACT: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been working closely with the State of Alaska to facilitate the reintroduction of wood bison in Alaska through funding, permits, and technical assistance. We have agreed that a specific section of the ESA (10(j)) provides an appropriate mechanism for the reintroduction. We are working together on the final details.