Defend the ESA

The Endangered Species Act (ESA), the last barrier to extinction, the most important law in the United States for conserving biodiversity, is under attack, yet again. Since the 115th Congress was sworn in on January 3, 2017, it has already seen the introduction of at least 75 legislative attacks seeking to strip federal protections from specific species or undercut the ESA. Attempts at weakening protections for species are not limited to congressional actions, but can also be the subject of rule changes, such as a change adopted in 2016 which redefined endangerment, further changes that dismantled the ESA, and more recently, changes that weakened protections for threatened and endangered species.

During a time when we are experiencing an extinction crisis of stunning proportion with species’ extinction happening at a rate at least 100 times greater than what would be considered normal, we should be working to strengthen, not weaken, the ESA. We should be striving toward expanding habitat—utilizing areas that may have been former range, or areas needed for future habitat, deemed critical and necessary for species survival—not shrinking it.

Since it’s passage, the Endangered Species Act has helped reverse and stop declines in numerous species (pdf), in fact, only 1 percent of species protected by the law have gone extinct. In spite of this success rate, fueled by greed and rapacity, the Endangered Species Act is on the chopping block, again.

Please speak up, defend the Endangered Species Act! Deadline for commenting is September 4th, 11:59 p.m., ET.

Sample comment below, after which you will find a link for your submission.

Sample comment, please personalize, add your talking points, and/or pertinent information:

I submit this public comment to urge the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) not to implement its proposed policies under docket FWS-HQ-ES-2020-0047.

The new definition of “habitat” being proposed by FWS will allow the agency to block setting aside any area that isn’t currently habitat but might be needed in the future, particularly as the climate changes. The purpose of the Endangered Species Act is to help endangered species flourish and expand back into their former range (including habitat in need of restoration), this rule would accomplish the exact opposite, would likely hasten extinction crisis, and is a change which I strongly oppose.

This change would result in the exclusion of areas that do not meet the new, narrower definition of habitat, thereby decreasing the amount of habitat that can be protected. The move would serve as a grave setback to conservation—critical habitat, in its abundance is vital for stabilizing populations of threatened and endangered species. Listed species that have ample protected habitat are more than twice as likely to move toward recovery than species without it.

Limiting critical habitat designations will hamper recovery efforts and tie the hands of government agencies when designating habitat. Rather than providing the space they need to recover, expand, and thrive, the proposed new definition risks providing species just barely enough habitat for a meager existence, and, shamefully, comes at a time when the world is currently undergoing a biodiversity crisis (

Nothing about this new definition helps animals and plants facing extinction. Habitat should not only “include areas with existing attributes that have the capacity to support individuals of the species,” but should/must include area that are able to be restored to such a condition.

Again, we should be working to strengthen, not weaken, the Endangered Species Act. I urge the USFWS and NOAA to withdraw the proposed rule listed under docket FWS-HQ-ES-2020-0047, issuing a new definition of “critical habitat” under the Endangered Species Act.

Thank you for taking the time for my submission.

Submit your comment here (due by September 4th, 11:59 p.m., ET). Note: will undergo scheduled maintenance and will be unavailable Thursday, September 3, from 8:00 PM to 12:00 AM EST. During this time, will be available for commenting. Type in this docket number for commenting: FWS-HQ-ES-2020-0047

Endangered Species Act: Hope for the Underdog

On December 28, 1973, the United States made a historic commitment.

On that day, President Richard Nixon signed into law the Endangered Species Act (ESA), a bipartisan declaration that we would do our absolute best to conserve the nation’s rich diversity of wildlife no matter how seemingly insignificant.

Thanks to the now 40-year-old ESA we can see success in icons of the wildlife world: Bald eagles and peregrine falcons soar above; gray wolves prowl the Rocky Mountains, Great Lakes and Pacific Northwest; manatees grace the coastal waters of the Gulf and South Atlantic; wild salmon and steelhead continue their annual migratory rituals. Virtually every corner of our nation can take pride in being part of the recovery process sparked by the ESA.

But it is also clear that back in 1973, the legislators understood Aldo Leopold’s admonishment that the essence of intelligent tinkering is to save all the pieces. And so, the ESA they wrote has also recovered lesser-known species like the Magazine Mountain shagreen snail, Tennessee purple coneflower, karner blue butterfly and Higgins eye pearlymussel.

While the ESA often provides the spark, the future of imperiled wildlife depends more on us. If we want Canada lynx, if we want bull trout, if we want grizzlies or sage-grouse, then we have to make deliberate choices to make a place for them in the world. These choices will involve sacrifice.

Humanity thrives on convenient slogans such as “win- win.” I wish it were that simple. It would make my job so much easier. We could have it all — development, timber, water, energy and the wildlife we love. Of course, as long as we’re dreaming, maybe we can bring back the passenger pigeon?

We can, and do, work together with partners, developers, landowners and industries to find compromises that balance the needs of imperiled species and economic growth. But balance implies compromise, meaning both human, economic aspirations and species conservation goals give way. For those who feel economic growth is too important to compromise, it is far easier to blame something other than our own greed and ambition. They blame a law they call inflexible, unworkable and unreasonable — the ESA becomes a perfect scapegoat.

But the ESA is not at fault. It is only a tool. When you are hammering a nail and an errant blow causes the nail to bend, it is more convenient to blame the hammer than to acknowledge the limits of the carpenter.

We face many challenges in conserving biodiversity: a changing climate, habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, species invasion, wildlife trade, disease, water scarcity, pollution, overharvest and human indifference. The ESA is not a challenge.

The ESA is a gift to the nation — an expression of our desire to conserve biodiversity, the health of the habitat and our willingness to work for it. For 40 years, it’s been a symbol of the U.S. commitment and leadership in conservation.

We have seen it succeed and we have seen it fail. It has worked miracles, like restoring the California condor to western skies. But we have also seen the dusky seaside sparrow vanish from the landscape, the coastal marshes of Florida forever silent of their song. The James Hole pupfish and Delta smelt may be soon to follow.

What I love about the ESA is this — it offers optimism and hope. Hope for the underdogs. It is the last barrier to extinction, and represents our collective commitment to protect our nation’s wildlife for the future.

And the future will hold success and failure. The law will support both equally. The independent variable is our commitment as a nation.

Dan Ashe
December 2, 2013
Director – USFWS
(June 2011 – January 2017)

Strengthening the ESA, science-based decisionmaking, and properly funding the law will continue to help threatened and endangered species. Allowing endangered species the space they need and are entitled to, on the other hand, is also dependent on your consumption habits and choices. Tap image below for more information on how America uses its land.

Grasshopper sparrow. Of the Florida subspecies well under 200 remain.

Related content:

Weyerhaeuser Company v. United States Fish and Wildlife Service

The Grasshopper sparrow will probably go extinct
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