Latest conservation challenge: preserving Endangered Species Act

Latest conservation challenge: preserving Endangered Species Act
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The United States is now facing one of our greatest conservation challenges to date — the actual preservation of the nation’s landmark wildlife legislation, the Endangered Species Act of 1973. It is as a result of the protections afforded to imperiled species under this legislation that the U.S. has achieved unsurpassed success in species recovery compared to any other country in the world.

Disappointingly, because of proposed rule changes by the current administration, species are at grave risk, at the time when wildlife is in most need. The weakening of the act’s key provisions is akin to chipping away at the supporting pillars of a foundation — changes may go unnoticed at first, but over time, the structure will collapse. In the case of the act though, that structure prevents species from extinction — an outcome that cannot be reversed or rebuilt.

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The effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act is clear. The law has prevented more than 99 percent of listed species from going extinct. It has provided a framework to strengthen citizen stewardship for wildlife — from smaller, elusive species to grand, majestic ones that have captured imaginations and wonder for generations. 

It is a law of last resort, meaning that states have primary authority for protecting and managing their wildlife and habitats. Species are listed under the act only after significant decline and when state management proves insufficient to prevent extinction.

In the United States, the passage of the act was a social awakening to the value of the relationship between humans and wildlife, an understood acknowledgement of our role in species decline. The result of intense public pressure, visionary thinking, or perhaps simple caution, the act reflects the realization by the majority of the existence of a fundamental overlap between people, the planet, and its animal species.

To the overwhelming majority of citizens, it is an assertion of the long-term value of both the protected environment and the species within it. Whether that value is long-term human well-being or the intrinsic value of species and the planet itself, the principles upon which the law was founded have only strengthened over time.

At The International Fund for Animal Welfare, we understand the urgency and complexity of the problems faced and the need to create real-world solutions that have lasting impact. This understanding drives our decision to partner with local communities, organizations, and governments in the U.S. and across the globe. It is this lasting impact that only a steadfast defense of the Endangered Species Act can ensure.

Theodore Roosevelt, the Republican president responsible for establishing the U.S. Forest Service and the designation of National Monuments said to “cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children's children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.”

Roosevelt’s words ring as true today as they did more than 100 years ago. It is in these moments that our society decides to either heed his warning or to forsake the inherent responsibility that comes with our shared natural inheritance.

Beth Allgood is the country director for the United States for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the leading organization protecting animals and the places they call home.