Fifty years ago, Republicans and Democrats in both chambers came together in an inspiring display of bipartisanship to pass one of our nation’s most respected and successful conservation laws: the Endangered Species Act. This is a law that commemorates our nation’s responsibility to be good stewards of our natural heritage and protect it for future generations. It is a law that prioritizes saving species and the wonderful ecosystems they call home for the benefit of all through the use of the best available science.
Since its implementation in 1973, the ESA has prevented the extinction of nearly every species under its protection. From gray wolves howling at the moon, to bald eagles soaring above us, to black-footed ferrets running across the plains, to sea otters playing on the beach, ESA puts in many species on the road to recovery. It directs resource managers to protect species and the habitats they depend on, and brings scientists, communities and industry stakeholders together to provide recovery plans for each species. Without the work mandated by the ESA, we would not be able to celebrate red wolves in the wild and we would not be able to help others, such as Cook Inlet belugas and polar bears, from extinction.
Unfortunately, too many members of Congress have begun to turn their backs on this life-saving legislation or are actively working to destroy the fundamental principles that enabled its success. And they did it at a time when we needed ESA. In the 118th Congress, political extremes reached the point of stripping protections from critically endangered species such as the lesser-prairie chicken, the northern long-eared bat, and the dunes sagebrush lizard. became common in two rooms. These efforts to undermine and politicize the ESA run counter to the science-based decision-making of experts at the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service that have maintained the integrity and effectiveness of the law since its inception.
The world is not the same as it was half a century ago, however, and the need for ESA has never been greater. Chronic underfunding has severely hampered much-needed recovery actions for years. Today, we face a major threat in the United States and abroad from the intertwined biodiversity and climate crises. As leading scientists warn that 1 million species are at risk of extinction, we continue to watch vital habitat disappear before our eyes. From coral reefs to sagebrush shrubs, higher temperatures, more droughts and fires, stronger storms and floods, and a higher risk of diseases and pests are pushing wildlife and critical habitat beyond of what is sustainable.
We are in a dangerous situation. But there is hope, as the American public increasingly supports the ESA. That support — despite increasingly becoming a partisan issue in the halls of Congress — cuts across party lines across the country.
Americans understand that we are inherently connected to the web of life and depend on healthy, biologically diverse ecosystems for clean air, clean water, nutritious soil, and strong economies for our own well-being. .
In its 50 years, the Endangered Species Act has proven to be a strong, successful tool for saving endangered species, and it should continue to be one. Congress, however, needs to better fund its implementation. As Americans dedicated and tasked with building the best future for our children, we must demand that Congress invest in and protect the ESA. Failure to do so in the face of extinction is not an option. We must meet the moment that wild animals and wild places need us, not bury our heads in the sand and hope for another end.
Don Beyer represents the 8th Distrct of Virginia and Jamie Rappaport Clark is the president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife.
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