“I found one!” my son Will yelled to his fellow wildlife biologists. The group had been searching for tiger salamanders for the previous 15 days, excavating into the burrows known to be their habitat.
The local utility company, Pacific Gas and Electric, was proposing a huge development near Hollister, CA, but under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), they could not do so in an area known to be the habitat of an endangered species without being carefully monitored.
My son works for a company hired to carry out this monitoring; his job is to educate every worker on the site about what to look for, to seek out the endangered species and to take notes and report back to California Fish and Wildlife.
In this case, only one tiger salamander was found and as a holder of the special ESA permit, he was able to move the reptile.
40th Anniversary Of The Endangered Species Act
This month we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the ESA.
The Act was signed into law on December 28, 1973 by President Richard Nixon who, in one of his finer moments, declared:
“Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed. It is a many-faceted treasure, of value to scholars, scientists and nature lovers alike, and it forms a vital part of the heritage we all share as Americans.”
In 40 years, the ESA has made a huge difference. Examples of its success in protecting species and their habitats are extensive: grey whales, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, gray wolves, Florida manatees, American alligators, grizzly bears and black-footed ferrets have all been rescued from the brink of extinction.
Last year, the Center for Biological Diversity published a groundbreaking report, On Time, On Target: How the Endangered Species Act Is Saving America’s Wildlife, which provides an in-depth look at 110 protected species from all 50 states. They found that 90 percent of the studied species are recovering right on time to meet recovery goals set by federal scientists.
You can check out species in your area on this interactive regional map of the 110 species.
One of the downsides of the ESA is that it takes an average of two years for a species to be listed, which is plenty of time for a developer to create a whole new shopping mall or housing complex.
But this is minor compared to the opposition to the Act that is vocal now.
Is The Endangered Species Act Endangered?
Although we are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the ESA, the celebration is overshadowed by a new bill in Congress that threatens its very survival.
In 1973, the ESA passed Congress in the House by 355 to four, and in the Senate by 92 to 0. There was such overwhelming support because people understood it provided balance in the natural world.
How things have changed in 2013.
U.S. Senate Bill 1731, Endangered Species Management Self-Determination Act, is sponsored by the ESA’s political foes and backed by special-interest groups more interested in making as much money as possible than in preserving our nation’s wildlife.
Tea Party Senators Rand Paul, Mike Lee and Dean Heller introduced this bill last month; if passed, it would gut the ESA and end protections for most of the species currently listed, make it harder to list new species and require that every five years threatened and endangered species are kicked off the list, until Congress passes a joint resolution renewing their protection for another five years, at which point they would be kicked off again.
In other words, this bill would essentially dismantle the Endangered Species Act, which was designed specifically to protect otherwise defenseless animals from humans.
This is just the latest in a series of attacks on the ESA by lawmakers who seem quickly willing to undermine the ESA, which they falsely claim is burdensome and an intrusive federal overreach.
Speak Up Now
The Endangered Species Act has prevented the extinction of 99 percent of the more than 1,500 plants and animals it protects, while putting hundreds on the road to recovery.
America’s wild places and wild creatures are essential to our national heritage and our national soul. If America’s endangered wildlife is to be preserved, we must all call or write our congressional representatives and sign the petition to voice our opposition to U.S. Senate Bill 1973.
Photo Credit: USFWSEndangeredSpecies