President, Society for Conservation Biology 2011-2013
In 1988, fifteen years after passage of the Endangered Species Act, the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) was formed to advance the same goal: namely, conserving endangered species and the ecosystems on which species depend. Most of SCB’s founders were professional ecologists, and our job was to understand how the natural world worked. For many of us, that meant documenting the decline of biodiversity—a most dismal form of science. The Endangered Species Act and its requirement for science-based recovery plans opened the door to the new, hopeful, and exciting science of improving how the natural world worked—the science of conservation biology.
I have served on the recovery teams for the ocelot and the jaguar, and I have helped implement the recovery plan for the Mexican spotted owl. I have had opportunities to design wildlife corridors for at-risk species including desert tortoises, kit foxes, and desert bighorn sheep. My career, like the careers of many conservation biologists, has included these wonderful opportunities precisely because of the Endangered Species Act. Even when we are not paid for some of these activities (such as serving on recovery teams), our lives and our science are enriched, and the world becomes a better place.
The Act also helped create a culture in which thousands of conservation scientists are comfortable with advocacy and are free from the petty obsession with pure objectivity that rules some scientific disciplines. Over our 25-year history, supermajorities of SCB members have consistently expressed support for activism and advocacy. Using science to recover species is simply helping the government obey the law—a form of advocacy easily embraced by scientists. To paraphrase former SCB President Reed Noss, wanting to help society solve a hard problem is advocacy, and it is nothing to be ashamed of. A law mandating recovery plans helped us become the Society FOR (not “about”) Conservation Biology. By enshrining values into law, the Endangered Species Act helped us realize that we do not develop credibility by quietly publishing results and letting the facts speak for themselves. Instead, we become credible when we devote time to public service, frankly articulate our values, and adhere to the scientific virtues of transparency, honesty, consideration of all evidence, and openness to alternative interpretations of evidence.
On behalf of thousands of professional conservation scientists, thank you, Endangered Species Act.