The Endangered Species Act (ESA), passed in 1973, was enacted to halt the rapid loss of plant and animal life. Frequently referred to as the “crown jewel” of our nation’s environmental laws, the ESA has been responsible for saving many species formerly on the brink of extinction, including the bald eagle, gray wolf and California sea otter. The ESA is the only piece of environmental legislation to date that does not demand a cost-benefit analysis before going into action, making it uniquely effective. Once a species is declared threatened or endangered, the ESA ensures that it will be protected and all efforts will be made to assist in its recovery.
The Endangered Species Act is not just our strongest environmental law – it also articulates a noble vision. In it, for the first time in world history, the legislators of a great nation said that it would do everything in its power to prevent the extinction of any species within its border.
Why is it so important for us to protect species?
1. Ecological importance
Healthy ecosystems depend on plant and animal species as their foundations. When a species becomes endangered, it is a sign that the ecosystem is slowly falling apart. Each species that is lost triggers the loss of other species within its ecosystem. Humans depend on healthy ecosystems to purify our environment. Without healthy forests, grasslands, rivers, oceans and other ecosystems, we will not have clean air, water, or land. If we allow our environment to become contaminated, we risk our own health.
Over 50% of the 150 most prescribed medicines were originally derived from a plant or other natural product. Unfortunately, only about 5% of known plant species have been tested for medicinal uses and there are thousands of plant species that have yet to be identified. Tens of thousands of Americans die every year from illnesses for which there is no known cure. The cures for these diseases may eventually come from plants, therefore, we must protect all species before they are lost forever from nature’s medicine cabinet.
The American tourism industry is dependent on plant and animal species and their ecosystems for their multi-billion dollar, job-intensive industry. Every year, millions of people visit natural areas in the US and participate in wildlife related activities. From woodland hikes to beach going, outdoor activities are the second most popular travel activity (Travel Industry Association of America). The U.S. Park Service logs over 200 million visitors to our National Parks every year. The local economies of these areas
benefit greatly from activities associated with these visits. The preservation of our nation’s biological diversity is an immensely important facet to the survival of the travel industry.
Agriculture also plays an important role in the protection of species, farmers are often seen as the original conservationists. Many farmers set aside portions of their land as wildlife habitat and also work in partnership with groups such as Trout Unlimited to restore river and stream habitats for endangered and threatened fish and reptiles. In addition, wild relatives of common crops contain important genetic material needed to maintain these crops. These relatives can be used to ensure crops are disease-resistant while providing information for developing new crops that can grow in less than adequate lands.
How can we ensure the Endangered Species Act’s noble vision is carried out to its fullest?
With a firm grasp of the importance of threatened and endangered species, we need to make sure that they are protected. The Endangered Species Act is our nation’s first line of defense against extinction. Unfortunately, species are slipping through cracks in the ESA. Citizens across the country remain vigilant in protecting the biodiversity and wildlife within their own communities. Through the monitoring of state and federal actions concerning threatened and endangered species, citizens act as a voice for the voiceless to guarantee that the well-being of these species are considered.
The ESA has also faced well-funded and well-organized attacks. With the help of committed groups and citizens, these attacks have been defeated. To ensure that we continue to have a strong and powerful Endangered Species Act, we need to make sure it is fully funded and reauthorized.
The Endangered Species Coalition has been working hard to ensure the ESA remains intact and fully funded. With your help, we are sure that all attacks to the ESA will be stopped. Through this tool kit, you will find ways that you can help and get more involved. The information we are providing is designed to guide you through the endangered species work and we will be available to assist you every step of the way.