By Beth Allgood, U.S. Country Director, International Fund for Animal Welfare
According to a 2019 independent survey conducted on behalf of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), a vast majority of Americans affirmed that it is ‘very important’ for the United States to protect endangered species both domestically and across the globe. Three in five strongly supporting the Endangered Species Act, the nation’s landmark wildlife legislation, with seven in ten respondents claiming they are ‘more likely’ to vote for a candidate who supports protecting endangered species and a majority also supporting funding of wildlife protection programs outside the US. With this overwhelming support for the protection of endangered species among the general public, it is shocking that that one of the greatest conservation challenges faced at this moment is the preservation of the Endangered Species Act itself.
Sadly, this is the situation we find ourselves facing as the current Administration prepares to release final regulations, which we expect will significantly undermine the Act, crippling one of the most effective and overwhelmingly bipartisan legislative tools available to save wildlife from extinction. Proposed changes to the law would impose broad harm to key areas, including the weakening of effective protections for threatened species, discouraging the designation of critical habitats, and allowing economic considerations when evaluating species listing decisions, rather than basing those decisions on sound science. These are monumental shifts in the breadth and depth of the Act and put species in grave risk at a time when wildlife is in most need. There is however, no shortage of public outcry to these changes – over 800,000 people submitted comments opposing the rule change.
The effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act is indisputable. This bedrock legislation has prevented more than 99 percent of listed species from going extinct, our own iconic bald eagle among them. The Act provides a framework through which to strengthen citizen stewardship for wildlife, while serving as a model for species conservation across the globe. Put simply, the protections afforded to imperiled species under this legislation are the key driver behind the U.S. achieving unsurpassed success in terms of species recovery versus any other nation in the world.
The most comprehensive global assessment on biodiversity ever undertaken was released this year by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). The conclusions were alarming— as a result of human activities, nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history — and the rate of species extinctions is only accelerating. In fact, more than one million species are at risk of extinction. Regrettably, this is reinforced by a recent Living Planet Index that highlights the fact that the world is on track to lose two-thirds of its wild animal populations by 2020. The weakening of key protections of the Endangered Species Act represents the antithesis of the actions that we truly need to take at a national and societal level at this immensely critical point in time. We are rapidly approaching a point of no return.
All species are linked inextricably to our own well-being, to our livelihoods, economies, food security, and yes, even to our overall survival. In fact, there is a growing movement for the inclusion of non-financial indicators to be factored into a country’s ‘well-being index,’ to more accurately reflect the true state of a nation’s ‘prosperity,’ and to do away with treating wildlife as a simple commodity. But, even when measured in traditional monetary terms, a report released this week on Climate Change and Land by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), estimates the value of global ecosystem services to be equivalent to global GDP.
The Endangered Species Act represents an appreciation of the long-term value of both the protected environment and the species that reside within it. Whether that value is long-term human well-being or the intrinsic value of species and the planet itself, the principles upon which the law was founded have only strengthened over time, reflecting the realization by the majority of a fundamental overlap between people, the planet, and its animal species.
At IFAW, we know that the problems we are up against are urgent and complicated. But solutions do not have to be. And the Endangered Species Act represents a culturally significant solution that is scalable, effective, and sustainable — one that enjoys overwhelming buy-in from citizens and neighbors, friends and families. It is a milestone solution that must not only be maintained but enhanced to reflect the ever-increasing urgency of the global threats faced today. We call on all people to protect the Act and to take a proactive role in protecting wildlife and preserving wilderness for generations to come. And we call on policymakers to put their thumbs on the scale for endangered species and habitats. It is only through upholding the tenets of the Endangered Species Act that we can begin to foster a glimmer of hope in what feels far too often to be a bleak future.
This is the third in a series of Op/Eds submitted by IFAW on the importance of animals and wildlife to humans.