I remember being eight years old, in the second grade, and learning that Buffalo Bill Cody killed over 4,000 buffalo in eighteen months. Learning how in the 19th century we—humanity—drove an animal that once ruled this land to near extinction. Being a kid, feeling so small, I couldn’t imagine how the human hand could so effectively eradicate such a powerful animal. My enchantment and respect for animals has only grown over the years, as has my understanding of consequences of not protecting them.
We’ve made this brilliant commitment to protecting wilderness spaces—and the species that call them home—in a way that few other societies have.
The Endangered Species Act has been protecting our country’s disappearing wildlife longer than I’ve been alive, and it has done an amazing job.
In 2007, on a trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, I saw gray wolves and learned extensively about them. After returning home to New York City—as far from the wilderness as you could be—I realized that gray wolves wouldn’t be roaming the Northern Rockies and points thereabout without the assistance of the Endangered Species Act.
Our nation nearly wiped out wolves in the mistaken belief that a world without them would be more hospitable. Fast-forward to today, and we’ve seen that when you remove a keystone species like wolves, it has dramatic impacts on their former surroundings. Animals they preyed on increase beyond the capacity of their habitat, causing entire ecosystems to become imbalanced. Because of a brave reintroduction program and the protections of the Endangered Species Act, wolves are bouncing back in some areas of the country, but there’s still a lot of work left.
In my work as a filmmaker, I sometimes travel to remote destinations and have developed an appreciation for our nation’s unique place in the world. We’ve made this brilliant commitment to protecting wilderness spaces—and the species that call them home—in a way that few other societies have. Through this commitment to protecting our wildlife and wild places, my son has been able to see some of those same creatures that I wondered about at his age. I appreciate the foresight that our leaders had in enacting the Endangered Species Act four decades ago, and look forward to celebrating its successes in the decades to come.