The Endangered Species Act: 1973-2018

By Isabelle Bienen, NWNL Research Intern
(Edited by Alison M. Jones, NWNL Director)

NWNL research intern Isabelle Bienen is a junior at Northwestern University studying Social Policy with minors in Environmental Policy & Culture and Legal Studies. Her  research on the Endangered Species Act focuses on a current topic of interest in the US.  Her 5-blog series on US Clean Water Act, its history and significance, will follow soon.

Defining the Endangered Species Act

The U.S. Endangered Species Act [hereafter, ESA] was passed by the U. S. Congress in 1973 due to growing concern over possible extinctions of native plants and animals within US watersheds.1 The previous year, President Nixon had asked the 93rd Congress to develop legislation to prevent species extinction in the United Status due to inadequate efforts up to that point. The resulting act is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Commerce Department’s National Marine Fisheries Service. The ESA’s defined purpose is to “protect and recover imperiled species and the ecosystems upon which they depend.”1 Thus the ESA plays an important stewardship role in US watersheds.

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Endangered Grey Wolf, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Since ESA protection includes safeguarding habitats of vulnerable species, the ESA governing agencies are assigned responsibility of targeted organisms by their habitat locations. The Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for terrestrial and freshwater organisms, and thus their watershed habitats. The National Marine Fisheries Service is responsible for marine life and habitat.6

Species of concern are labeled either “endangered” or “threatened” under the ESA. The term “endangered” indicates a species that “is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.”The term “threatened” indicates a species that  “is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future.”1 Congress ruled that all plant and animal species, other than pest insects, are eligible for listing by the ESA. . This includes subspecies, varieties and distinct population segments.1

The ESA, via the Environmental Protection Agency, annually provides approximately $1.4 billion of financial assistance to states with species of focus. These funds allow those states to develop local conservation programs. Their available powers, per the ESA, include relocating or  eliminating  ranching, logging, and oil drilling harmful to the species or their habitat.3 The ESA also allows the United States to meet its obligations to several international agreements and treaties, such as CITES [The Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora] and the Western Hemisphere Convention.2 These global agreements provide compelling support for upholding the ESA and its actions. Without the ESA, the United States would not uphold its international responsibilities.

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Critically-endangered Black Rhino, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, Kenya

Achievements of the Endangered Species Act

The success of the ESA is clear, despite critics. The Center for Biological Diversity credits the ESA for preventing extinction of 99% of species on the ESA endangered and threatened lists.7 Going further it says that due to EPA actions from its founding in 1973 to 2013, the ESA has shown a “90% recovery rate in more than 100 species throughout the U.S.”7 Their 2012 study documenting 110 U.S. Northeast species, supported by the Environmental Protection Agency, revealed that 93% of those species are “stable or improving,” while about 80% are “meeting the recovery targets established in Federal recovery plans.”7 These statistics are all indicative of the ESA’s wide-spread success. The NRDC [National Resources Defence Council]  has hailed the ESA as a literal lifesaver for hundreds of species on the brink of extinction.

Additionally, the ESA has received strong public support. A national poll of Americans, administered by the Center for Biological Diversity in 2013, found that 2 out of 3 “want the Endangered Species Act strengthened or left along, but not weakened.”7 Recent polls in 2017 suggest that these numbers indicating ESA support have further increased.  Their results say that 9 out of 10 people support the ESA. It is clear that dismantling the Endangered Species Act – or even weakening it – would go directly against the will of well over half of Americans.

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Sharp-tailed grouse, similar to the endangered sage grouse, Nebraska

Recent Actions

As of July 2018, the Trump Administration initiated efforts to retract the Environmental Species Act. By mid-summer, more than two dozen pieces of legislation, policy initiatives and amendments designed to weaken the law have been proposed by the Trump Administration, and either introduced or voted on in Congress. These actions include:

  • a bill to strip protections from the gray wolf [Canis lupus] in Wyoming and along the western Great Lakes;
  • a plan to keep the sage grouse [Centrocercus urophasianus], a chicken-size bird that inhabits millions of oil-rich acres in the West, from being listed as endangered for the next decade;
  • a measure to remove the American burying beetle [Nicrophorus americanus] from the “endangered” list.  This orange-flecked insect has long been the bane of oil companies that would like to drill on the land where it lives.3
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Endangered Mountain Gorilla, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, Uganda

The many steps taken against the ESA in only a few weeks this summer indicates the intensity of its drive to strip the ESA of its powers. The reasons stated for these actions is a concern that the impacts from ESA policies might restrict economic development and some American livelihoods. Some feel those economic impacts outweigh the significance of the ESA’s protection of endangered or threatened  species.3  

Foreseen Impacts and Reactions to Recent Actions

A July 19, 2018, proposal by the Interior and Commerce Departments would require that economic consequences of protecting any species must be considered when deciding assignment to the “endangered” or “threatened” species lists.3 If these actions are finalized, it would be extremely difficult for any new species to be added. However, species currently on these lists and their habitats will continue to be protected.3

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Recovered endangered Brown Pelican, Santa Barbara, California

The proposals, backed by the Trump Administration, have been requested by oil companies, gas companies and ranches.   They have objected to the ESA because they believe it “represents a costly incursion of federal regulations on their land and livelihoods.3 [See Addendum below. ] Despite decades of efforts by lobbyists and libertarians, efforts to overturn the ESA have not had any effect. Recent intensified and coordinated efforts may portend a more serious challenge to our watershed species that are integral to the health of our ecosystems.

Retracting the ESA would be detrimental to the overall web of plant and animal species populations in watersheds across the United States. Their loss would affect their associated habitats, predators and prey  – and ultimately impact human lives. The loss of the ESA would impair the safety and well-being of endangered and threatened species, the health of our watersheds, and the quality of human life.

Today’s reality is that the landmark law that established the ESA could be overturned. The eternal reality is that once a species becomes extinct, that couldn’t be overturned. Extinction is forever.

USA: Massachusetts, Cape Cod, Wianno, piping plover in breeding plumage
Recovered endangered Sand Piper, Cape Cod, Massachusettes

ADDENDUM from NWNL Director Alison M. Jones:  Adding to current concerns being voiced over recent threats to the EPA, today (8/14/2018) on national television, Christie Todd Whitman, former EPA Chair and N.J. Republican, added her voice.  She opined that, while occasional re-examination of regulations can be worthwhile, many current environmental roll-backs “are only being done for individual industries’ bottom line.”

SOURCES

  1. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, accessed 7/25/18, published 2017, IKB, link.
  2. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, accessed 7/25/18, published 2015, IKB, link.
  3. The New York Times, accessed 7/25/18, published 2018, IKB, link.
  4. CNN, accessed 7/25/18, published 2018, IKB, link
  5. National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, accessed 7/25/18, published 2018, IKB, link
  6. The United States Department of Justice, accessed 7/25/18, published 2015, IKB, link
  7. The Center for Biological Diversity, accessed 7/25/18, published 2017, IKB, link. 

 

All photos © Alison M. Jones.

💦 A Flow of Holiday Thoughts…

We wish you the Magic of water, the Rhythm of rivers and the Joy of friends and family on our riverbanks!

Giraffe and Maasai cross Amboseli Lake in a mirage.
Giraffe and Maasai cross Amboseli Lake in a mirage.

“THE RIVER SPEAKS”  – Poem by Gene Lindberg

Down from the mountains of eternal snow
The streams come tumbling, joining as they flow
To send a river winding toward the sea.
I listen, and the river speaks to me.
It tells of meadows on a thirsty plain;
Of gardens blooming where there is no rain;
Of mighty cities built upon its banks;
Of living things that owe the river thanks.
The waters speak to me, and hurry on,
Eager to come and eager to be gone.
Almost it seems as if the river knew,
How many things there are for it to do.
Sometimes it pauses,
to lay up a store of liquid wealth in lake and reservoir,
Then leaps a dam and hastens on again,
Turning a wheel to light the homes of men.
The river speaks, and deserts cease to be;
Wide fields grow green, and ships go down to the sea,
I hear the water singing as it goes:
“Let life go on, because the river flows.”

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NEW GIFTS FROM OUR STORE! NWNL creations
for anyone on your list who appreciates water!

US: Oregon, Columbia River Basin, Columbia River Gorge, bottom of Multnomah Falls, ferns and moss covered rocks in foreground

MARK YOUR CALENDARS! See our list
of important days to celebrate through the New Year!

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DONATE NOW! NWNL has much more to do!
Donate what you can to help protect our freshwater resources.

East Africa, Kenya, Nairobi, Langata, Hog Ranch, cracked, dry earth MR

“The fate of animals is…indissolubly connected with
the fate of men.”
– Émile Zola

Posted by Jasmine Graf, Associate Director of No Water No Life.

Happy World Elephant Day!

For 30 years NWNL has studied Kenya’s iconic, charismatic jumbos that create water access for so many other species in the Mara River Basin. What can you do to celebrate and help elephants?
(scroll down for a few ideas 🙂 )

Participate in the #elegram project ———> and tell others to participate too!

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Send an E-Card for World Elephant Day!

Check out the World Elephant Day website for updates and news 🙂

Zambia:  Jeki, elephant ("Loxodonta africana") crossing Zambezi R.
Zambia: Jeki, elephant (“Loxodonta africana”) crossing Zambezi River
Kenya: Maasai (aka Masai) Mara National Reserve, Mara Conservancy, Mara Triangle, Trans Mora aerial (from helicopter), elephant near muddy tributary of Mara River,
Kenya: Maasai Mara National Reserve, Mara Conservancy, elephant near muddy tributary of Mara River

Knowing the facts will help us SAVE ELEPHANTS

Kenya: Amboseli National Park, male elephant in mud hole, baboons in distance.
Kenya: Amboseli National Park, male elephant in mud hole, baboons in distance.

Ironically, just after our blog yesterday, about the remarkable qualities of elephants, more sad statistics were featured in today’s NY Times, p. A9.

Study Details Elephant Deaths

Poachers killed an estimated 100,000 elephants across Africa from 2010 to 2012, a huge spike in the continent’s death rate of the world’s largest mammals because of an increased demand for ivory in China and other Asian nations, a study published Monday found. Warnings about elephant slaughters have been ringing for years, but Monday’s study is the first to scientifically quantify the number of deaths across the continent by measuring deaths in one park in Kenya and using other published data to extrapolate fatality tolls across the continent. The study found that the proportion of illegally killed elephants had climbed from 25 percent of all elephant deaths a decade ago to roughly 65 percent of all elephant deaths today, a percentage that, if continued will lead to the extinction of the species. The study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was carried out by experts from Save the Elephants, the Kenya Wildlife Service, an international group called MIKE responsible for monitoring the illegal killings of elephants, and two universities.

Read more about this in the Huffington Post.

Kenya: Amboseli Nat'l Park, baby elephant with herd of females in background.
Kenya: Amboseli National Park, baby elephant with herd of females in background.

An elephant’s memory of water

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The African savannah elephant is the largest land mammal in the world. In folklore, elephants are known for not forgetting. For the African savannah elephant, memory is a tool for surviving challenges that may come intermittently over decades. Long-term memory tends to be vested in the older females, called matriarchs, without which the herd could die of starvation or dehydration. During the drought of 1993 in Tanzania, elephant matriarchs that remembered a similar drought 35 years before led their herds beyond the borders of Tarangire National Park in search of food and water. Groups with matriarchs that were not old enough to remember the previous drought suffered a 63 percent mortality of their calves that year. (Source: Wildlife Conservation Society)

< Click on thumbnails below for captions and larger view. >

Elephants are not human, of course. They are something much more ancient and primordial, living on a different plane of existence. Long before we arrived on the scene, they worked out a way of being in the world that has not fundamentally changed and is sustainable, and not predatory or destructive.
~Alex Shoumatoff

Discover more interesting facts about Loxodonta africana.

Read the story of Satao, a bull elephant who lived in the arid plains northwest of Mombasa, who had tusks so long that when he walked they nearly scraped the ground.

Take the IFAW pledge to PROTECT ELEPHANTS!

Kenya: Samburu National Reserve, female African elephant with two young adults and baby drinking from Uaso Nyiro River
Kenya: Samburu National Reserve, female African elephant with two young adults and baby drinking from Uaso Nyiro River

– Posted by Jasmine Graf, NWNL Associate Director

Botswana’s Okavango Delta: UNESCO’s 1000th World Heritage Site!

A place as extraordinary as the Okavango Delta certainly deserves to be designated as a World Heritage Site – and finally it is!  As #1000 on that list, it’s one of NWNL’s favorite natural landscapes and wetlands ecosystem. You can see why in the photos. It’s literally an oasis in an arid country with no access to the sea. The Okavango River swells to three times its size during seasonal flooding, attracting one of Africa’s greatest concentrations of wildlife, including many endangered species. No Water – No Life!

Related reading: https://www.iucn.org/?16018/Iconic-Okavango-Delta-becomes-1000th-World-Heritage-site

http://www.okavangowildernessproject.org/

Happy Migratory Fish Species Day!

Kuki Gallmann, the first Ambassador for Migratory Species, has staged many celebrations of World Migratory Bird Day at her home in Kenya. NWNL Director was proud to attend the first of these joyful events. This year Kuki Gallmann released a video to mark World Migratory Bird Day. Her words (transcribed below by NWNL) apply equally to birds, fish and all migratory species.

KUKI GALLMANN: Back in 2006, when all over the world, migratory birds were killed, being accused of spreading the deadly avian flu. And they became a symbol of disease and death. I was proud to host the first ever World Migratory Bird Day on the Great Rift Valley of Kenya along the migratory route. At that time, artists from all over the world came to celebrate the beauty and magic, the mystery and freedom of the migratory birds.

On this very day, we’re far and wide. We spread the message of the importance of preserving these bridges amongst continents. I’m proud to add my voice as the first Ambassador for Migratory Species to the ones of my colleagues and friends, to children, to teachers, to conservationists across the globe. It is a time in which we have lost the link.

I recently received a message from a neighbor who asked me, “Where are the birds gone that used to travel to our lakes and watercourses?” We have interrupted their routes.   We have crisscrossed the skies with wires. We have threatened them by polluting the watercourses where they come after their long journeys.

International Celebration of World Migration Day hosted by Kuki Gallmann in Kenya, 2006.
International Celebration of World Migration Day hosted by Kuki Gallmann in Kenya, 2006.

We are killing the elephants – they’re also migratory. We are polluting the oceans. We have come to our senses before it is too late. At a time in which the world is divided, wars and many problems destroy peace on the planet. The migratory animals can be seen as ambassadors to peace. They don’t know about politics. They don’t know about religions. They don’t know about the small, short-time scheme of man. They’re a symbol of the superiority of nature over the menial things that destroy and pollute our own lives. I exhort the children particularly today, and my friends and colleagues across the Plant Earth to look again up at the sky at those amazing creatures flying over with endurance, with determination, guided by an ancient instinct stronger than we can explain and reestablish their evidence to respect and protect their habitat. All is connected.”

Thank you, Kuki, again for your eloquent and passionate support of migratory species.