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Director's Corner

Dan Ashe served as FWS Director from June 2011 until January 2017. The following is an archive of blogs authored by Director Ashe during that time. This content is intended for historical reference only and not as a representation of current Service policy or opinion.

Endangered Species Act: Hope for the Underdog

On December 28, 1973, the United States made a historic commitment.

On that day, President Richard Nixon signed into law the Endangered Species Act (ESA), a bipartisan declaration that we would do our absolute best to conserve the nation’s rich diversity of wild life no matter how seemingly insignificant.

manateeWest Indian manatees are widely distributed throughout the South during summer months, with sightings in Florida, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. Photo by Tracy Colson/USFWS

Thanks to the now 40-year-old ESA we can see success in icons of the wild-life world: Bald eagles and peregrine falcons soar above; gray wolves prowl the Rocky Mountains, Great Lakes and Pacific Northwest; manatees grace the coastal waters of the Gulf and South Atlantic; wild salmon and steelhead continue their annual migratory rituals. Virtually every corner of our nation can take pride in being part of the recovery process sparked by the ESA.

But it is also clear that back in 1973, the legislators under- stood Aldo Leopold’s admonishment that the essence of intelligent tinkering is to save all the pieces. And so, the ESA they wrote has also recovered lesser-known species like the Magazine Mountain shagreen snail, Tennessee purple coneflower, karner blue butterfly and Higgins eye pearlymussel.

While the ESA often provides the spark, the future of imperiled wild life depends more on us.

Canada lynxA mother lynx watches warily as her kittens are evaluated by Colorado Division of Wildlife Biologists. Photo by Colorado Division of Wildlife

If we want Canada lynx, if we want bull trout, if we want grizzlies or sage-grouse, then we have to make deliberate choices to make a place for them in the world. These choices will involve sacrifice.

Humanity thrives on convenient slogans such as “win- win.” I wish it were that simple. It would make my job so much easier. We could have it all — development, timber, water, energy and the wild life we love. Of course, as long as we’re dreaming, maybe we can bring back the passenger pigeon?

We can, and do, work together with partners, developers, landowners and industries to find compromises that balance the needs of imperiled species and economic growth. But balance implies compromise, meaning both human, economic aspirations and species conservation goals give way. For those who feel economic growth is too important to compromise, it is far easier to blame something other than our own greed and ambition. They blame a law they call inflexible, unworkable and unreason- able — the ESA becomes a perfect scapegoat.

This is taken from the fall 2013 Fish & Wildlife News recognizing the ESA's 40th anniversary

But the ESA is not at fault. It is only a tool. When you are hammering a nail and an errant blow causes the nail to bend, it is more convenient to blame the hammer than to acknowledge the limits of the carpenter.

We face many challenges in conserving biodiversity: a changing climate, habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, species invasion, wild-life trade, disease, water scarcity, pollution, over harvest and human indifference. The ESA is not a challenge.

bull troutBull trout are a cold-water fish of relatively pristine stream and lake habitats in western North America. Photo by Joel Sartore/National Geographic Stock with Wade Fredenberg

The ESA is a gift to the nation — an expression of our desire to conserve biodiversity, the health of the habitat and our willingness to work for it. For 40 years, it’s been a symbol of the U.S. commitment and leadership in conservation.

We have seen it succeed and we have seen it fail. It has worked miracles, like restoring the California condor to western skies. But we have also seen the dusky seaside sparrow vanish from the landscape, the coastal marshes of Florida forever silent of their song. The James Hole pupfish and Delta smelt may be soon to follow.

What I love about the ESA is this — it offers optimism and hope. Hope for the underdogs. It is the last barrier to extinction, and represents our collective commitment to protect our nation’s wild life for the future.

And the future will hold success and failure. The law will support both equally. The independent variable is our commitment as a nation.

Below is an interesting read which is very relevant to the point the Director makes. There are great successes but also some failures, as conditions can change on the ground. For example, the dramatic influx of coyotes into the Red Wolf recovery area of eastern NC has made a successful reintroduction virtually impossible. The critical success factor of the recovery area being "coyote free" no longer exists. The coyote readily interbreeds with the red wolf and the resulting hybrids will forever doom the program. The 26 year old experiment in eastern NC began with 4 breeding pairs. Peaked at 21 pairs and has now declined to 8 breeding pairs as the coyote has migrated heavily into the recovery area. 9 out of 23 (40%) of all current red wolf packs contain a coyote member. This is no fault of the dedicated program biologists. Conditions on the ground simply changed too much for a successful program.
# Posted By Jett Ferebee | 12/3/13 3:53 AM

Thank you for sharing your perspective with us, Mr. Ferebee. You are correct that complex challenges, like the recovery of the red wolf, require innovative solutions. Despite these challenges, we do not equate challenge with failure. Our biologists have taken an adaptive management approach to saving the wolf, and we are proud of their dedication and integrity. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was created to face these trials head-on and to not give up on saving species. Failure would be to throw in the towel because the challenge was just too big. We continue to seek ways to work with a variety of partners, including the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and concerned individuals like yourself, to find the best ways to work better, and smarter, for the benefit of the red wolf, other wildlife, and people who share the occupied range. For more information visit: http://www.fws.gov/redwolf/
# Posted By | 12/16/13 8:47 AM

Go to this thread and check on the real story please.
Thanks so much for your response, but the reality of what has happened with the USFWS's promises to protect private property rights does not reflect cooperation or "integrity". Leo Miranda, may very well be the exception. He has shown great concern and seems to be moving in the right direction. He represents you well. That said. There are laws which must be adhered to even by USFWS.
Specifically the 1995 Rules Revisions for the red wolf program. Here they are:
1. "Therefore, the special rule is modified to provide that all landowner requests to remove wolves from their property will be honored"
2. "Any animal that is determined to be in need of special care or that moves onto lands where the landowner requests their removal will be recaptured.
Thanks, Jett Ferebee
# Posted By Jett Ferebee | 12/16/13 9:22 AM

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