Executive Director, Wilburforce Foundation
[pullquote]The Endangered Species Act is one of the most hopeful visions to be found, and it is successful in spite of many political efforts to prevent it from working. Out of more than 2,000 imperiled animals and plants that have been protected under the Act, only ten have actually gone extinct.[/pullquote]When Wilburforce Foundation was started in 1991, there were no wolves in most of the western United States. Since then, thanks to the Endangered Species Act, wolves have made a remarkable comeback. Under the guidance of the Act, wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park in 1995, marking the first return of wolves to that area since 1926. I have a vivid memory of being in Yellowstone on a frigid June morning in 1997—just two years after the return of the wolves—looking out over the Lamar Valley with a small group of biologists and photographers. We were hoping to catch a glimpse of the Druid Peak pack, which was then still small and mostly elusive. On that particular morning, we were rewarded with the then-amazing sight of wild wolves running free on a distant hillside—something most people had not seen in that area for nearly seventy years.
Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to see and hear wolves many times, not just in Yellowstone, but in many other wild places in the West. To me, wolves represent the essence of effective conservation—a delicate balance of both the art and the science of humans trying to rectify the wildlife losses that, in most cases, humans have caused. It’s doubtful that the framers of the Endangered Species Act could have envisioned the success of wolf reintroduction, but they were bold enough to set a course that made the reintroduction possible at a time when such things seemed nearly unthinkable. Even Richard Nixon, who was no fan of most environmental causes, recognized the importance of the Act because it protects a future that is important for all of us. He wrote this when he signed the Act into law:
“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. I congratulate the 93rd Congress for taking this important step toward protecting a heritage which we hold in trust to countless future generations of our fellow citizens. Their lives will be richer, and America will be more beautiful in the years ahead, thanks to the measure that I have the pleasure of signing into law today.”
Here at Wilburforce Foundation, we partner with nonprofit organizations, scientists, agencies, tribes, and others to preserve the North American West’s irreplaceable diversity of wildlife, lands, and water. We believe there are positive, achievable solutions to current challenges based on sound science, conservation policy, and community action. We also believe that conservation is powered by a hopeful vision in which wild places and wildlife thrive in harmony with human communities.
The Endangered Species Act is one of the most hopeful visions to be found, and it is successful in spite of many political efforts to prevent it from working. Out of more than 2,000 imperiled animals and plants that have been protected under the Act, only ten have actually gone extinct. With a success rate of more than 99 percent, the Endangered Species Act should be celebrated as one of our most successful environmental laws. It is, as former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt said, “an affirmation of our kinship with all life and of our respect for Creation.”