Monarch butterflies are currently under review to be protected by the Endangered Species Act. Photo: Jay Mather

The Endangered Species Act

Aug 15, 2018 by Jana Hemphill
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 was passed by Congress, who stated that endangered and threatened species of wildlife and plants "are of esthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational, and scientific value to the Nation and its people."

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by Brad Chalfant


Some people consider the Endangered Species Act a disaster and a threat to communities and landowners all across the country. However, the truth is that the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is one of the most successful (albeit underfunded) environmental laws and programs that Congress has ever enacted. Originally created during the Nixon Administration with bipartisan support, the Endangered Species Act has staved off extinction for a great many species. Imagine the United States without the bald eagle or the Pacific Northwest without our salmon.

Has the Endangered Species Act imposed a cost on some landowners or complicated some development plans? Yes--but should private property rights trump the right of a species to exist? Depending upon your perspective, people will come to different conclusions on that question. However, what can’t be disputed is the fact that the ESA has protected many species, and in a number of cases, actually helped a species recover.

The Endangered Species Act was never intended to be the primary means to protect the health and viability of our wildlife species. Yet the fact that so many species have come to rely on the ESA speaks volumes about our failure to come to terms with our responsibility to protect creation. The next time you hear a politician or pundit condemn the ESA as a failure or in need of radical revisions, ask yourself where the real failure lays and how we let that happen.  

To be clear, the Land Trust’s work is based exclusively upon voluntary, collaborative conservation with willing partners. However, voluntary, collaborative conservation will never be a substitute for meaningful environmental laws and an effective regulatory framework. Isn’t it time we talk less about our rights and more about our responsibilities?