Saving Endangered Species

We Need the Endangered Species Act Now More Than Ever

Artwork by Shawn DiCriscio

I’ve been passionate about wildlife and endangered species since I was a young boy. Growing up in the 1960s on national wildlife refuges where my father worked in Illinois, New Mexico and Oklahoma, I dreamed of seeing nearly-mythical endangered ivory-billed woodpeckers, whooping cranes and peregrine falcons. Through that experience, I developed a dedication to preventing all endangered species from being lost forever.

This journey has led me to researching endangered orchids and birds and working as a government biologist. I’ve been chief of the National Park Service’s Biological Resources Management Division and director of a U.S. Geological Survey research center specializing in endangered species. And I was field supervisor with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office overseeing protection and recovery for more than 500 endangered species.

To this day, saving endangered species remains my vocation — and the Endangered Species Act is essential for its success.

The Endangered Species Act has saved 99 percent of the plants and animals under its protection while putting hundreds of species on the road to recovery. Since being signed into law in 1973, the Act has become the foundation for protecting America’s most vulnerable species and the standard by which all other biodiversity laws throughout the world are measured. But the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, known as NEPA, also brought immense benefits to wildlife — and people.

Our rivers are cleaner, our air is more breathable and species I feared I would never see, like the peregrine falcon, are no longer in danger of extinction. But there is still so much work to be done. The forces that drive wildlife toward extinction — including habitat loss, pollution, climate change and invasive species — still pose real and tangible threats to wildlife across the country.

That’s why it upsets me so much to see this Republican Congress and the Trump administration in a head-over-heels rush to dismantle the Endangered Species Act, the Environmental Protection Agency and other conservation laws and agencies.

Right out of the gate, the Trump administration has already paused protections for the endangered rusty patched bumblebee.

Rusty patched bumblebee (Photo credit: Dan Mullen)

If that example is any indication, it seems unlikely the administration will meet a deadline this month for determining if endangered species protections are warranted for the yellow lance mussel, which is in decline throughout its range.

Plus, Republicans in Congress are continuing their fight to weaken protections for endangered species, having already introduced 18 bills that would harm endangered plants and animals. Most are species-specific, targeting wolves, sage grouse, salmon and elephants, while others roll back protections more broadly and could harm hundreds of species.

Today, I’m launching the Wildlife Insider column. I’ll be taking an in-depth look at America’s rare and endangered plants and animals, as well as the spectacular wild places they need to survive. As an expert on laws protecting endangered species, I’ll also analyze policies — and politicians — that threaten these amazing creatures and their homes.

There’s no doubt we’ve entered a difficult political era and some of America’s most important and successful environmental laws, including the Endangered Species Act, will be in the crosshairs. The decisions that the president and Congress make will have very real consequences for the animals and plants, not to mention people, who benefit from these laws in very real ways.

Part of the job of this column will be to set the record straight on the worst of the misinformation and lies about the Endangered Species Act and proposed legislation to dismantle it.

Politicians that advocate for gutting and repealing the Endangered Species Act also want to turn over public lands and critical endangered species habitat to private, corporate interests, trading our natural heritage for political support and campaign funding. We can’t let that happen and I hope this column will help in the fight.

Loyal Mehrhoff is endangered species recovery director at the Center for Biological Diversity.