Conservation and Biodiversity

Save the Endangered Species Act

According to the EPA, as of 2023, 1,300 species in the United States are listed as either endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act. However, the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services — an international, independent body linked to the UN — estimates that 1 million plant and animal species globally are threatened with extinction. Biodiversity loss is an imminent global threat, with the exploitation of organisms, climate change, and pollution all driving species’ loss. 

But the situation — at least in the US — would be so much worse if it was not for the implementation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1973.

The ESA of 1973 was born out of The Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966, which established a federal list of endangered species in the U.S. and outlawed the harming of these species. A complete list of the species this act protected included 78 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish. It also established the authority for the Secretary of the Interior to acquire land important to conservation specifically for the protection of endangered species. 

Two years later, The Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1969 expanded the species list to include endangered species worldwide and also extended protection to these species. 

Then, in 1973, the Endangered Species Act (ESA), was signed into law. This was the most comprehensive legislation protecting endangered species to be established in the United States. It expanded the powers and responsibilities of creating the endangered species list, required the designation of habitats of endangered species as “critical habitats,” or areas vital to the conservation of a species, expanded the authority of agencies to protect endangered species, and bolstered legal protections for endangered animals.

Co-author of the ESA was none other than Republican Congressman Paul Norton “Pete: McCloskey, who also has a personal history with EARTHDAY.ORG: he served as the co-chair of the Board of Directors for the very first Earth Day in 1970. Sadly, Pete McCloskey passed away on May 8, 2024, but after years dedicated to serving his country, he regarded the passing of the ESA as his greatest legacy.

Pete often referred to himself as an endangered species: the last Green Republican.

Denis Hayes, Principal organizer of the first earth day

In 2019, Republican-led decisions made biodiversity loss much more likely, by favoring the needs of private business and industry by the diluting of the ESA and making environmental exploitation much more likely. Such as allowing mining and drilling in habitats that were home to protected species. Although President Biden would later reverse some of these enforcements, environmentalists were generally critical of how long it took his government to do this; they waited three years to reverse former President Trump’s policies. 

Needless to say, there are potentially yet more threats to biodiversity to come – no matter who is elected in November of this year. 

The top causes of biodiversity loss are exploitation of the land and sea, over fishing and hunting, so that animal numbers are diminished, pollution, the invasion of alien species, and of course habitat loss due to climate change. Which means that the majority of the time, threats to biodiversity are a result of human action, which is exactly why the Endangered Species Act is so important. The US government, no matter which political party leads it, needs to protect our threatened and endangered species, not perpetuate human activity that knowingly harms them.  

Why does the Endangered Species Act make such a difference? 

Well consider this, in 1963, it was estimated that there were less than 500 breeding pairs of Bald Eagles in the lower 48 states.  The situation for this iconic bird, our national animal no less (chosen as such in 1789), was dire. The species was actually listed as endangered in 1978. But the Endangered Species Act allowed Bald Eagle numbers to recover so that there are now an estimated 316,700 Bald Eagles in the lower 48. Success stories like this can only continue if we pressure the US government to improve, not inhibit, the Endangered Species Act.

Going forward, the most beneficial thing for species protection in the US, would be giving the Act the power to do more to proactively protect species. Frequently, species are added to the endangered list too late, when their populations are already very small, making species recovery far less likely. In fact, only 54 species out of the more than one thousand that have been on the endangered species list, over the course of 48 years, have fully recovered to the point of not needing protection any more.  Let’s fight to change that.  

Pete McCloskey’s biggest fear was that the Act he championed would be gutted. Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen — write to your Senator and Congressional leaders and ask that they be don’t let the Act, designed to protect our most vulnerable species, get culled. 

The US without the Bald Eagle would be an appalling concept to our Founding Fathers — but to make sure that never happens, we have to be on alert. We have to actively campaign to make sure our voices are heard and we can never be complacent.