By: DR. ROBIN GANZERT
The Endangered Species Act is itself now endangered.
There are currently several legislative and executive branch proposals to roll back the protections in the ESA, which for more than 45 years has safeguarded vulnerable species by restricting development that would disrupt their habitats, breeding, and existence.
Given that scientists now say we are facing a sixth mass extinction, with up to half of all species heading toward oblivion by the year 2050, animals need robust protections now more than ever. That’s what makes these current plans to weaken this cornerstone of conservation policy so alarming.
Even in today’s politicized environment, the protection of our animal species should be an ideal that unites Americans across the political spectrum. A national poll conducted by the Center for Biology Diversity finds that two-thirds of respondents want the ESA strengthened or left alone. Those who care about protecting our diverse wildlife must make their voices heard to defend this landmark legislation.
Proposed revisions to the ESA from the Interior and Commerce Departments would make it easier for development projects that threaten wildlife to gain approval as economic factors would be considered for the first time since the act was passed.
While we must always value, nurture, and protect our own human species, we can’t — and shouldn’t — put a monetary value on the survival of the remarkable creatures with whom we share the Earth. What price would we set, for instance, on the noble Humpback Whale, the mischievous Southern Sea Otter, or the Bald Eagle — a living symbol of our country — which the ESA and American Humane helped save from the brink of extinction? For what do we profit if we gain the whole world and yet lose our nation’s wild legacy and soul?
That doesn’t mean that certain pieces of the law cannot be carefully updated or even improved through rational review and reasonable reassessments that take into consideration new science and evolving impacts on both animals and people.
While we do this, we should remember that the ESA’s key elements have been successful at protecting some of our most cherished and most iconic American treasures, keeping 99 percent of listed species from going extinct. Scientists estimate that absent this vital act, at least 227 species would have likely disappeared. A 2012 study from the Center for Biological Diversity documented 110 species that have seen rapid recovery because of the ESA.
We supported the ESA’s original passage in 1973, and support it again now, along with efforts to protect and preserve species in responsible zoological institutions that are serving as arks of hope for many of the world’s remarkable and endangered creatures.
More than 1,600 threatened and endangered species now depend on the ESA for protection. Many will simply go extinct if we do not preserve the key elements of this vital legislation.
Humans, who are responsible for putting animals in this precarious state, must now band together to save them by saving the crucial protections in the Endangered Species Act.
Robin Ganzert, Ph.D., is president and CEO of American Humane, the country’s first national humane organization.