Let’s take an easy quiz. Of the twelve animals below, can you name at least ten that you have either seen in your lifetime, or at least have some familiarity?
American Alligator Bald Eagle California Condor
Florida Manatee Florida Panther Green Sea Turtle
Grizzly Bear Key Deer Southern Rocky Lynx
Peregrine Falcon Whooping Crane Red-Cockaded Woodpecker
Pretty simple, right? In fact, I would be surprised if you named any fewer than all twelve. But had it not been for the passage of the Endangered Species Act (16 U.S.C. §1531 et seq. 1973), most, if not all of these animals would probably have become extinct years ago?
When President Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act (ESA), he said “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.”
Yet imagine the United States of America proudly touting the extinct bald eagle as the national bird. Imagine Florida’s state marine animal – the Florida Manatee, and Florida’s state animal – the Florida Panther – gone forever.
Imagine the world without the comical and human-like face of the Probiscus monkey. Imagine Santa Claus no longer able to rely upon reindeer transportation. A little humor, but unfortunately; the ESA itself has been under attack. And if certain people have their way, the Act itself could actually disappear.
Unfortunately, the propagandists are attacking the Endangered Species Act with misleading data, suggesting the Act has been a failure; when that is simply incorrect.
Recently, a U.S. Senator responded to a proponent of the Endangered Species Act, and commented that the ESA has had only had a 1% success rate. And based upon that number, who would argue that the ESA has been a failure of epic proportions?
However, that particular statistic was extracted from a radio interview that occurred a few years ago; and as such, was grossly taken out of context. This said, it is deeply concerning that a U.S. Senator might base an opinion; or even worse, base a legislative vote on an oft-handed comment, without researching the source or to understand the basis behind it.
And when referenced as a stand-alone quote, this might lead the reader to conclude that the ESA should just be repealed entirely, and allow those animals on the endangered list to just fend for themselves. And of course, leaving humans to govern themselves in these matters would essentially be the same as designating the fox to guard the hen house. The resulting carnage and decimation would be of epic proportions. These animals simply would not have a chance of survival without the Endangered Species Act.
All this said, the actual quote from U.S. Representative Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) in an August 23, 2013 interview with Wyoming Radio was as follows:
“Our goal is not to repeal the Endangered Species Act. Far from it. Our goal is to make the Endangered Species Act work. We have a law where only 1 percent of the species that have been listed have actually been delisted. To me, that indicates a law that is failing in its ultimate goal which is to list species, recover them, and then delist them.”
And although this may not be an overwhelming vote of confidence for the ESA, this at least defines what the 1% actually represents, and emphasizes a need to make this work.
THE ONE-PERCENT CROWD
So, where does this 1% originate? This particular statistic was likely provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. In a recent report, they identified 2,105 species as being endangered; and of those, a total of 28 species are deemed to be fully recovered and delisted. This equates to 1.3%.
However, the argument of the ESA as a failure relies upon the assumption that delisting is the primary purpose of the Endangered Species Act. And emphatically, supporters of the Endangered Species Act optimistically state their hope and desire that these endangered or threatened animals will eventually re-populate through these protections so that they can be delisted.
That said, the primary purpose of the ESA is to protect and ensure that those animals listed as either endangered or threatened do not become extinct. And for this reason, the Act has been of a great success.
And as William Robert Irvin, President and CEO of American Rivers stated “By the time species are listed as threatened or endangered, their numbers are so low that preventing extinction is the major challenge, with recovery and delisting a remote consideration. The law acts as an emergency room. Recovery requires much longer treatment through actions under the full panoply of conservation laws and programs.”
The Endangered Species Act “requires federal agencies, in consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and/or the NOAA Fisheries Service, to ensure that “actions they authorize, fund, or carry out are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any listed species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of designated critical habitat of such species”.
THE ESA’s 93% SUCCESS RATE
In celebration of Endangered Species Day 2012 (the 30-year mark of the ESA), the Center for Biological Diversity studied in detail the actual success of the ESA and published these results on the website http://www.esasuccess.org and in the report On Time, On Target: How the Endangered Species Act Is Saving America’s Wildlife.
This report can be read in its entirety via the following link: http://www.esasuccess.org/pdfs/110_REPORT.pdf; and it offers a stark contrast to those detractors suggesting the ESA has failed.
Their study focused on the actual recovery rate of 110 different species, which represented a range over all 50 states, included all major taxonomic groups and a diversity of listing lengths.
Of these species, they determined that 90 percent of the species were recovering at the rate specified by their federal recovery plan. They also determined that it takes an average of 25 years for a species to fully recover and that 80% of the species have not even been listed long enough to warrant an expectation of recovery. Their analysis also concluded that the average age of listing was 32 years while recovery plans require approximately 46 years of listing.
In fact, the study’s findings were similar to a 2006 analysis of North American species which found that 93% of the species were either stabilized or improving since placed on the endangered species list, and 82% of those were on pace to meet recovery goals. So, few would argue that these figures represent anything less than a high degree of success.
However, some would want you to believe that an endangered species should miraculously recover to sustainable levels the next day or next week after being placed on the endangered species list. Those could be accused of either living in a bizarre world of delusion; or perhaps they simply wish to use an unreasonable time-table in an effort to undermine the ESA.
Yet, one desiring to lose weight doesn’t suddenly drop 100 pounds in a single week. A person desiring to retire at age 65 doesn’t suddenly start to save at age 64 and realistically think he or she will save enough money in one year to retire. One doesn’t plant a seed in the ground and expect a flower to blossom the following day. Most of the species on the endangered species list have experienced a decline in population measured in decades. Why would we expect a recovery of an endangered species to defy logic and happen overnight.
Obviously, misleading information such as “the 1% success rate” of the Endangered Species Act doesn’t help. And frankly, the drive to dismantle or overhaul the ESA is primarily driven by Republicans who believe that (1) State’s rights dictate that the states and not the federal government should have the primary role in the protection (or lack thereof) of these species; and (2), the Endangered Species Act harms economic growth through development restrictions.
And those points do have some validity worthy of debate. However, never in that debate would there exist legitimate justifications to simply repeal the Endangered Species Act. But unfortunately as with so many other animal rights issues, the battle almost always comes down to man versus animal. And because the animal doesn’t have the deep pockets to influence legislation, and does not have a voice to argue for his rights, the animal often ends up on the losing end.
Thankfully, there are many groups that exist to serve as the animal voice. However, I do find it rather humorous that those critical of the ESA also base this criticism on the fact that millions of taxpayer dollars must be spent annually to defend the Act. However, the blame is often directed at the animal welfare groups because they are the ones forced to litigate, just to ensure the Federal Government actually upholds the very act they passed 40 years ago. One might argue that if the federal government actually upheld the ESA legislation rather than cater to special interests, the animal welfare groups would not be forced to serve as the government’s deputy enforcer. In other words, they are blaming the effect and not the cause.
IS THE ESA BROKEN
The simple answer is No. Regardless of its critics, the original analysis provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services referenced earlier in this article included 2,105 endangered species. Of that total, only 10 species have actually become extinct over its history. This equates to a 99.52% success rate.
Can it be improved? It would be rare to find a piece of legislation that could not be tweaked or improved; particularly one that has existed for 42 years. However, I have always been a proponent of properly enforcing existing legislation before completely gutting, re-writing or re-crafting new laws. And the reality is that those who criticize the ESA and argue it as a failure secretly probably prefer it to not exist at all.
Most importantly, the Endangered Species Act needs to stay the course. Those supporting the act need to continue to tout its successes because there are many. Fortunately, many of the animals mentioned in this article have flourished under the Endangered Species Act; a number of species have been delisted from the Act; and given time, others may be eventually removed.
Unfortunately, many other animals are considered to be somewhere in the range of “Near Threatened” to “Wild Extinct”. The International Union of Nature (IUCN) maintains the Red List of Endangered Species worldwide (http://www.iucnredlist.org/); and as noted on the chart below, of the 77,000 or so species analyzed by The International Union of Nature (IUCN), nearly 23,000 of these, or 30% fall in these categories. So, our work is far from done.
Total Threatened Species to Total Species Assessed
Blue Line – Total Species Assessed; Red Line – Total Species Threatened
PROPORTION OF EXTANT SPECIES
SO WHAT TO DO
Educate and Communicate. Those in favor of dismantling or substantially gutting the Environmental Species Act will continue to use the meritless, misleading 1% success rate number. And unfortunately, many people will simply accept this figure as fact. However, numerous sources regarding the ESA have been referenced in this article to further educate the reader, and I encourage anyone to read up on the act itself and to better understand it’s importance.
Unfortunately, so few people fail to recognize the long-term environmental impact resulting in the loss of any animal or plant life. But think about a chain supporting a swing set. What happens if one of those chain links break? The entire swing comes crashing to the ground. Our ecosystem is no different. Eliminate an apex predator such as the lion or tiger and suddenly you have a mass overpopulation of deer and antelope. Eliminate the honey bee and almonds and other fruits depending upon their pollination suddenly disappear…not to mention honey.
Understand the Endangered Species Act, because while those mammals, insects and plants are the direct beneficiaries of the protections provided by the ESA, we will all ultimately suffer from their loss. Write your state and local representatives. Project your voice on social media. Get the word out. The Endangered Species Act has a 99% success rate, and that is the story that needs to be told.