By Maverick Ryan, American Forests
Recently, a growing portion of Congress has become eager to amend, or “modernize,” the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Many congressional members have cited that only 3 percent of species have been delisted, implying the ESA has been a failure. What has not been mentioned is that 98 percent of species placed on the Endangered or Threatened Species Lists have been successfully protected from extinction, placed on the road to recovery, or up-listed from “endangered” to “threatened.” While some may consider 3 percent over 45 years to be an insufficient amount of success for restoring endangered species, it’s actually quite remarkable, considering the centuries of habitat loss and fragmentation due to human development as well as the additional threats such as drought, invasive species, increased fire and pest outbreaks.
The ESA was signed into law by President Richard Nixon on December 28, 1973. In the president’s own words, “This important measure grants the Government both the authority to make early identification of endangered species and the means to act quickly and thoroughly to save them from extinction”[i]. President Nixon has been proven correct over the 40-year lifespan of the measure; the ESA has become the international gold standard for conservation of endangered species.
The ESA works as it should; dismantling it or changing large portions of it should not be the goal of any Congressional member. The best solution to increase the effectiveness of the ESA would be to increase funding for habitat protection and restoration, in addition to allocating more resources to programs that get out in front of species endangerment, like the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants Program (STWGP).
The STWGP is designed to keep species from being listed under the ESA by providing states and tribes grants intended to aid in projects meant to protect “species of the greatest conservation need.” By preemptively targeting those species who show demonstrated need for conservation help, we can lessen the prevalence of species petitioning to be listed under the ESA.
The mechanisms to make species conservation more efficient already exist within the framework of our government, they just need the resources to be able to function properly. Congress should employ a complementary two-pronged approach, providing more funding to the ESA, to ensure conservation measures, like habitat protection and restoration, take place and increase the likelihood of species being recovered and delisted, as well as supporting the STWGP, to ensure that we aren’t only trying to pull species back from the brink of extinction, but also employing preventative measures to make sure that species don’t need to be listed under the ESA in the first place.
Interested in letting your Congressional members know that you’d like them to protect the ESA? Head to our Action Center where you can send this and other letters related to our forest policy priorities.