Thirty years ago this month, one of the most extraordinary and visionary ideas ever advanced by Congress became law. With overwhelming bi-partisan support and the leadership of such forward thinking people as Representative John Dingell, we established the first comprehensive environmental safety net, designed to protect wildlife, plants and fish that are in danger of extinction. The Endangered Species Act would go on to become a model for countries around the world. Today, the Act stands as a unique commitment by the American people to work together to protect our nation’s natural heritage. It represents the promise that species that are now endangered, such as coho salmon and Florida manatees, may again return to the places where they once thrived.
Today we celebrate this law – both its past successes and its potential for the future. Since the law was passed, we have recovered and delisted a number of species including the American alligator, brown pelican and peregrine falcon. Just as important, we have brought many species back from the edge of extinction. Because of the Endangered Species Act we can now hear the cry of the wolf in Yellowstone and perhaps even spot the haunting sight of a California condor – once completely gone from the wild – soaring over the hills of California. The ESA provides a road map to help us avoid the mistakes of the past – mistakes that led to the loss of species like the Carolina parakeet, and the passenger pigeon. Extinction offers no second chances.
Yet many of the challenges that prompted the passage of the Act still exist today. Loss of habitat due to sprawling development and resource extraction continues to be the number one threat to endangered species. In addition, we face new and uncertain threats to species protection, including global warming and invasive species. Who would have predicted that a virus from the Nile would emerge as a new and serious threat to bird species?
Unfortunately, we now face threats not just to species, but to this landmark law itself. Over the past three years, the Bush administration has waged a series of stealth attacks on the ESA. No administration has ever been so hostile to species protections. From supporting legislation that would remove habitat protection on military bases, to weakening ESA protections on fire reduction projects, to proposing new trade in internationally endangered species, this administration is slowly and quietly chipping away at this important law.
That is why it is absolutely critical that we join today with Congressman Dingell, Congressman Dicks, and other ESA supporters, to commit to a strong Endangered Species Act. Our children and their children should be able to enjoy the wildlife that is our American legacy. Let’s keep this promise we’ve made to ourselves, to protect our natural world.
Read Tom Turner’s thoughts on the anniversary.