By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block
Imagine our world and its wildlife without the protections of the Endangered Species Act. Had it not been for this bedrock federal law, the beloved American bald eagle would most likely have gone the way of the dodo or the passenger pigeon. Gray wolves and grizzly bears would be no more than relics hanging on the walls of trophy hunters. And the humpback whale would only be found in history books.
Since 1973, when President Nixon signed it into law, the ESA has been highly effective at doing exactly what it was meant to do: stopping endangered and threatened wildlife species from disappearing off the face of the earth. It’s been credited with saving 99 percent of listed species from extinction. The law currently lists 1,600 U.S. species, including American native carnivores like gray wolves and grizzly bears, and North Atlantic right whales.
But despite its efficacy, and its importance to biodiversity not only in our nation but throughout the world (the law also regulates import of trophies of at-risk animals from overseas), the ESA has been under repeated attack over the years from federal appointees and lawmakers beholden to special interests like trophy hunters. In recent years, they have found a powerful ally in the White House.
Last year, just two months after a U.N. report warned that more than a million wildlife species are at risk of extinction, the Trump administration announced changes to gut the ESA, including stripping newly listed threatened species of vital safeguards and creating hurdles to list species threatened by climate change. The Humane Society of the United States is challenging this move in court, and the Humane Society Legislative Fund is pushing for laws in Congress that would not only stop these damaging changes to the ESA from taking effect, but would further strengthen protections for wildlife.
Today, on Endangered Species Day, we urge you to take a moment to contact your lawmakers and ask them to support three bills now before Congress:
The Prohibiting Threatened and Endangered Creature Trophies Act of 2019 (ProTECT Act) H.R. 4804: Introduced by Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, Pete King, R-N.Y., and Ted Lieu, D-Calif., this bill would prohibit the trophy imports and killing in the United States of species listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA. The United States is the world’s largest importer of animal trophies, including federally protected species.
The Protect America’s Wildlife and Fish in Need of Conservation Act (Paw and Fin Act) H.R. 4348/S. 2491: Introduced by Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., this bill would repeal the Trump administration’s disastrous regulations that significantly weaken the ESA and make it harder to achieve federal protections for endangered and threatened species.
The Scientific Assistance for Very Endangered (SAVE) North Atlantic Right Whales Act, H.R. 1568/S. 2453: Introduced by Reps. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and John Rutherford, R-Fla., and Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Thomas Carper, D-Del., this bill would authorize $5 million per year for North Atlantic right whale conservation research over the next 10 years. Right whales are critically endangered, with no more than 400 individuals surviving along the U.S. and Canadian coast, and their numbers are declining due to entanglement in commercial fishing gear, collision with large ships and climate change.
We were heartened by news that the current House bill of the next coronavirus stimulus package includes a key provision to prohibit the interstate transport of some wild animals that are a danger to our health and to native wildlife, who can pass zoonotic diseases to humans and are frequently exploited in captivity, and we thank Rep. Grijalva for championing it. We’re also working to protect endangered species, like tigers, who are bred and raised in captive situations in large numbers in the United States.
The coronavirus pandemic has reminded us that our lives and our health are inextricably linked with the fate and well-being of wildlife and other animals, and that treating animals cruelly can have grave consequences for us. We cannot sit quietly while our government enables the abuse, neglect and possible extinction of the most precious and rarest animals in the world by hacking away at protections so important to their survival. The outcome—a world without lions and elephants and an America without grizzlies and wolves—is impossible to contemplate, and we won’t let it happen.
Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States