Conservation and Biodiversity

What You Need to Know About the Endangered Species Act

It’s been a federal law for more than 45 years. Congress passed the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1973 — with bipartisan support and prompted by President Richard Nixon — to protect and recover endangered and threatened species. The agencies of the federal government that administer the ESA are the Interior Department’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Commerce Department’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). It works! The ESA is responsible for saving more than 225 species from extinction — the American bald eagle, the brown pelican, Lake Erie watersnakes, a few whale species, and the grey wolf, to name a few — and prevented many more from becoming endangered or threatened. More than 250 million acres of habitat have also been protected, and the law requires that the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and other agencies research the benefits of protecting our wildlife. It’s had its day in court (many days…)  The law is as controversial as it has been successful. The ESA has been the subject of numerous court battles and regulatory changes. At issue: property rights, the failure to list species, and inadequate resources. Americans support it. The ESA is extremely popular with the American public. It is currently under attack. The Trump Administration has made attempts to curtail and weaken the ESA, proposing policy changes that would greatly undermine protections we need for our wildlife and ecosystems. Among the proposed changes: allowing the federal government to heavily favor economic impacts, to ignore future impacts to species, and to reduce protections for threatened species. The Trump Administration is expected to approve these proposed reductions in protection, and roll out additional changes, including delisting species and relaxing rules for importing threatened and endangered species from trophy hunts from other countries. We must continue to protect our species. Protecting species is a critical public policy issue and weakening the ESA is a national and global threat to species extinction and would cause irreparable and incalculable damage. In addition to protecting the individual species, it helps maintain our eco-systems and provides tangible and intangible benefits to humans, including safeguarding agriculture, existing and future business, human health, eco-tourism, and many other benefits. Case in point: The endangered honey bee is solely responsible for pollinating more than 30 percent of our food plants. Without it, we cannot survive. If you were to put a price tag on its value to the U.S. economy? More than one trillion dollars.