Bald eagle, © Miriam Stein

Affirming our All-American Conservation Values through the Endangered Species Act

Conservation of our precious natural resources used to be a defining American value. Across the political spectrum throughout the late 1960’s and ‘70’s, there was near universal agreement that we must conserve our air, land, water and wildlife for future generations. Indeed, many of our nation’s conservation laws were passed with the enthusiastic support of wide bipartisan majorities. This was especially true of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), signed into law 40 years ago this December 28th by Republican President Richard M. Nixon.

The ESA is the ultimate representation of America’s commitment to responsible stewardship. It underscores a fundamental recognition of our duty to conserve native wildlife for posterity. And that’s also why I’ve devoted most of my professional life to upholding, defending and strengthening it.

But my own reverence for wildlife and the special places throughout the country protected by the ESA isn’t the result of any professional position or title I’ve held.  I grew up in a military family; I am the daughter of a U.S. Army officer and I lived on or near numerous military bases throughout my childhood. With such constant change, it was hard to maintain lasting friendships, and it was frustrating to constantly be making a whole new set of friends that I knew would be lost with the next move. But the thing that stayed consistent were the animals that I encountered — rabbits, foxes and deer in the fields, backyard birds and frogs in the local creek and fireflies each summer. Very early in my life, I found comfort and a connection to wildlife. I feel fortunate that I have been able to evolve my passion into a life-long mission and a career where I believed  I could make a difference for this country’s imperiled wildlife.

The ESA is one of our most enduring and successful environmental measures. Examples of the ESA’s success in protecting species and their habitats are extensive: Bald eagles, peregrine falcons, gray wolves, Florida manatees, American alligators, grizzly bears, and black-footed ferrets have all been rescued from the brink of extinction.

Obviously, this kind of success takes decades to achieve, but the results of continued protection are undeniable. Sadly, since I started working with the ESA in the late 1970’s, I’ve seen a dramatic shift in the way our political leaders talk about conservation. It seems we have lost sight of the fundamental American values that united us across party lines 40 years ago. At that time, our leaders talked about the ESA and evoked the wonder, awe and reverence we shared as a nation for our amazing natural heritage. Today, way too many lawmakers seem quickly willing to undermine the ESA, which they falsely claim is burdensome and an intrusive federal overreach.  In the last Congress, Defenders of Wildlife chronicled a record number of attacks on the ESA, and we’ve seen devastating new ones emerge in this current session.

 After 40 important years of protecting America’s wildlife for future generations, we find ourselves at a familiar crossroads, similar to where our leaders stood when they originally passed the ESA.

We must ask ourselves again the same questions that were debated back then: what kind of nation do we want to be? Do we want to be a country that protects its wildlife and natural heritage? Will we sit back and passively watch as the worsening effects of climate change and increasing energy development across the landscape affect our wildlife in dramatic ways? Or, will we reaffirm our core American conservation ethic and once again rally behind the values that our leaders embraced forty years ago? The choice is ours. The decision will be felt for generations to come. Let’s hope our nation once again makes the right choice.  The right choice is to uphold the conservation values and sense of responsibility to future generations that shaped the ESA 40 years ago. Future generations deserve nothing less.

Jamie Rappaport Clark is Defenders’ President and CEO

Originally published in The Huffington Post

40 Responses to “Affirming our All-American Conservation Values through the Endangered Species Act”

  1. Robert Plummer

    Keep our planet and all living things protected. Future generations deserve and need this!

  2. carolyn rockafellow

    CONSERVATIVE!!! values. Conserving this nation in all it’s greatness includes conserving it’s wild places, it’s wild species, it’s beautiful creatures great and small: eagles, bears, wolves, otters, big cats, beavers, foxes, hares, horses, owls, many birds and fishes. If we lose this war, no other freedom is going to mean as much. We have the freedom to preserve and conserve and be a great nation and show the rest of world how it’s done!

  3. Waldo Montgomery

    Great article! I wrote a letter to the editor of the Dallas Morning News on this subject. It was published Dec 23rd. “Saving the Endangered Species Act is essential to our national soul.”

  4. Terry Shrum

    It’s a given that this important law must be preserved. Even in today’s divisive polical climate, I can’t believe any decent person would choose to revoke the ESA. if they do, I suspect there is a personal agenda – as pressure from lobbyists, or others with the plan of monetary gain. I have come to believe that nearly all legislators today do what they think will get them re-elected or line their pockets, rather than what is right. They could care less how many animals they kill.

  5. Jane Clugston

    I believe the further we distance ourselves from the rest of the natural world the emptier our souls become. These laws are essential to protect us all from the heartless.

    • Jane Clugston

      To read this communication is as if all my ancestors were speaking through me, both human and the animal world. I was born at the foothills of the Allegheny mountains where my first conversation was with a bear cub. Our family bible was Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.

  6. Sharon Yaley

    What could be as important as saving these endangered species, as it all goes together in saving our planet earth.

  7. Donna Davidge

    Oppose industrial wind turbines that destroy habitat and put our sky animals like eagles and bars at huge risk-

  8. Linda Rubino

    Save the endangered animals… We save our Ecco system…. Hence we are saving ourselves….

  9. Lou Ann Britton

    I grew up with the ESA being “preached” all the time; at school, on television, news articles. It is incomprehensible to me that we as a nation would cast it aside. Like everything else our political “Leaders” do these days…it’s do as I say not as I do. They don’t respect the views of the people who elect them to office, why would they respect our values as a nation. We cannot wait on our leaders, we must become actively involved or I fear that our children’s children will only know of the ESA thru history books.

  10. Karen Redd

    For those with a heart this will break it very very bad but maybe we can help get something done for the beautiful creatures that the Wildlife Services is slaughtering. It used to be animal control- the government is behind it, what a surprise. They are killing millions of animals including endangered ones and dogs, cows, even eagles. My god what I’d love to do to these heartless —

    And click on, great I forgot, it’s about what two senators are trying to stop GOD BLESS THEM FOR HAVING A HEART.

  11. RON

    without these animals to kill the weak we will have a lot of SICK ANIMALS THAT COULD DESTROY OUR OWN ANIMALS BECAUSE OF NOT HAVING THESE ANIMALS SO PLEASE DON’T KILL THEM FOR $$$$$$$$$$$$. THANK YOU

  12. Debbie Crosse

    I am completely & utterly DISGUSTED @ US-govern’ts decisions to eradicate, particularly WOLVES & MANY other wildlife. Farmers, money, politics & of course-MONEY. Everyone, keeping each other’s jobs. You should ALL be ASHAMED of yourself, while we have to sit silently by & watch, these HORRIFIC slaughter & TORTURE. I would NEVER travel to US, EVER again & every time, I hear a word, about States…I am now ashamed. I cannot look at a pic. of a wolf, knowing, what is going on. Bunch of bloody REDNECKS-that’s all you are.

  13. Debbie Crosse

    It is BAD enough-you do NOTHING about global warming as a supposed leader, in the world. But torture & slaughter…..DAMN you!!!!!!!!!!you are NO LEADER. You are at the bottom of the pile.

  14. Lesley Blissett

    Carolyn Rockafellow and Terry Shrum have summed up my views perfectly, but I still wish to give extra views regarding conservation as it appears that many organisations/States are flouting the Endangered Species Act, for example, the Wolf has become “a game target” in many states even though it is not yet at a fully recovered level! America MUST LIMIT IT’S HUNTERS AND TRAPPERS if it wishes to be known for protecting endangered species, until then the name of the USA will continue to stink as far as protection of endangered species is concerned!

  15. Sandy Meland

    I for one will be voting against any “lawmaker” that supports this un-American behavior. I will get the facts, and avoid heresay. Lawmakers forget they work for the people of this country. Make your vote a wise one!m

  16. Carrie Nutter

    Please help the animals! Let’s show that we are progressive for helping wildlife and the environment.

  17. nan hoover

    our wild life and national parks system is our legacy from our parents and we owe
    this same legacy to our children and grandchildren… we owe both groups this
    because our parents passed it into our care…

  18. MiLissa G. Wiley

    The simple act of respecting what God gave us so freely needs to be seen and changed. So many is politically motivated gains that the real issues of saving the beautiful creatures is blurred, We need every animal for us to exist.

  19. sharon johnson

    Our planet is in deep peril already…. This is wrong and YOU know it!

  20. kenneth davies

    good article we must protect the diversity of wild life if we are to survive ourselves. Kill one species and its prey will multiply or that which hunts it will decline and ultimately we re poorer and become susceptible to problems that nature had previously controlled

  21. Maggie Frazier

    As someone who has been around for almost 76 years – I have to say I am so disappointed in the self-serving politicians that appear to be so focused on power and greed that nothing else matters. The ESA is more important now than ever. It seems there is this urgency to eradicate more and more of our natural resources. I am most focused on the wild horses & burros, but its shameful what’s being done to the wolves, mountain lions, bears – any predator or prey species that “interferes” with human’s wants or desires. Does the younger generation realize that if this continues there will be NO wild anymore? In Europe they are developing “re-wilding” areas & in one such instance have released wild horses into an area. I apologize for sounding so pessimistic. Defenders is one of many attempting to stop the eradication of these animals. For that, I thank you.

  22. Lisa Rowsell

    Why are we not all flooding the White House and congress with letters on this topic? Did I miss something? We have to preserve our wild places and wondrous other living things. Isn’t this part of what set Americans apart from the rest of the world and spurred other countries to follow suit? There are millions of acres-habitat set aside around the world because of our efforts in the early 1900’s. It’s time to get back to our American roots…..

  23. Jane Morrow

    A world without wildlife and wild places is one I wouldn’t want to live in. The issues you are facing are worldwide ones, even in so called “clean green” New Zealand. Our government has just issued permits for dangerous offshore oil drilling exploration and have doomed an unique ecological area called the Denniston Plateau for coal mining. They just don’t get the big picture and it frustrates me and causes me sleepness nights.

  24. Trish Waddleton

    For years our giants of industry have raped and pillaged 3rd world countries and we sat back and let it happen. Now they are turning their greedy eyes on us, Canada, Australia and Europe. We thought we were untouchable but the beast has turned on us. If we sit still for this there will be no recognizing our World when they are through.

  25. yancy rowlette

    this is an important step in our cleaving the animals that are discarded/killed in our forestry sites!!! please write!!!

  26. Gail Lyall

    We MUST continue to protect and fight for wildlife! Jane Clugston said it best–the further we are from our natural environment, the further we are spiritually from ourselves. There is only one reason why the ESA would be stopped: Money! Who would profit? Gas and oil companies, coal companies, and more. It is imperative that we keep the ESA!

  27. Judith Hamilton

    The Endangered Species Act must always remain intact. The viability of many species are at risk because of terrible management from Government agencies not keeping their promise to have a clear and precise vision on why the ESA must be kept alive and well. We must demand that no one as the ability to change the clearly defined laws that protect our wild life and endangered species.
    I commend all the organizations fighting to keep our endangered species protected and preserved for future generations. I will also be fighting to keep our wild horses, 55 thousand help in captivity, asked that they be placed back on our wild lands and be free to roam again by the BLM Bureau of Land Management. Thank you

  28. C. Day

    We live in Idaho and I can tell you that The Gov. in this state would rather spend our money ($2,000,000.00) to have the wolfs killed then use the money to help our schools (this is one reason why) our schools rank 48th in the country for being the worse. Gee could it be that the Gov. needs to pay back some people for helping to get him elected him again!! We sure hope the people in Idaho have had enough of this guy. Wake up Idaho he’s no good for our state he only likes destroying OUR life style. And for the record our style is to help our schools not kill the wildlife for the hunters.

  29. Barb Holcomb

    Our lives and the lives of our decendents are tied to our ecosystems. If they do not survive, humanity will not survive. It is not enough to save them for a few years, then desert them until the last possible moment and try to save them again. There are limits that once surpassed are final. Life is not a movie, tv show or video game. Reality cannot be rewritten or restaged. Digital special effects do not replace life.

  30. I love God´s creation and I believe that we should be good administrators of what He has given us and not to destroy His blessings. My sister VIDA AMOR DE PAZ was awarded the environmentalist of the year in Guatemala and her book EXTREME ADVENTURE. An ep


  31. Doreen Frega

    We must preserve our precious Wildlife along with our Trees, Land and Water.
    We need to storm Washington to protect the Endangered Species Act.
    I am happy there are many people who do care….
    Tell your Senators and Representatives.

  32. gloria taber

    Please keep these protections in place. We, as humans, can’t survive without the rest of our wildlife and environment!!

  33. chris graville

    Trophy hunting should be stopped – end of – hunting humanely for food is another story.
    Trapping for game torture should be heavily fined and leavingtraps for more than 12 hours should be illegal.
    If we ate less beef there may be less cattle barrons ,and if those cattle barrons employed mounted shepherds/cowboys to patrol and protect herds wolves would keep their distance.
    After all if you encroach on a wolfs territrory then put cattle there instead , how can he reason that they are not fair game especially when their main source of food ie elk are being killed just for fun .


    As a human being it is our moral duty to save and protect our WILDLIFE and their ENVIRONMENT. To stand by and do nothing, is CRIMINALLY wrong! As our history has shown us, MAN is the TOP PREDATOR on our planet EARTH, and it is because of him that many of us, ANIMAL WELFARE ADVOCATES will have to keep vigil over these animals.

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