Despite the fact that wildlife across the planet are facing ever increasing threats from a burgeoning human population, habitat destruction and climate change, there is much to celebrate on the ninth annual endangered species day. Namely, the Endangered Species Act, the strongest law passed by any nation for protecting biodiversity, continues to save species from extinction.
Thanks to the power of the Endangered Species Act, plants and animals across the country, from sea turtles to peregrine falcons, are recovering. In just the past year alone, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared six species recovered, including the island night lizard, California Inyo towhee, two fish, the Oregon chub and Modoc sucker, and two plants, the Eureka Valley evening primrose and Eureka dune grass.
These species highlight how, with hard work to reduce threats, we can save species. The island night lizard, for example, was saved by a massive effort by the U.S. Navy and others to remove non-native pigs and goats from California's Channel Islands -- the only place where the lizards live. Likewise, the towhee was helped by reducing grazing around the desert springs where it lives, and the two plants were saved by expanding Death Valley National Park and thereby stopping off-road vehicles from crushing them.
Overall, the Act has been 99 percent successful at preventing the extinction of species under its protection. Scientists estimate that were it not for the Endangered Species Act, at least 227 species would have gone extinct.
Despite the tremendous success of the Endangered Species Act, radical Tea Party Republicans like Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) have waged a relentless war against the landmark law, recently introducing four bills that among other things, would divert precious resources away from saving species by forcing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to comply with meaningless reporting requirements and limiting the ability of citizens to enforce endangered species protections.
Given the popularity of the Endangered Species Act and Democratic control of the Senate and the presidency, these bills are unlikely to go anywhere, but Republican attacks do impact how the Endangered Species Act is implemented. In particular, the Act remains chronically underfunded. The entire annual endangered species budget for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife is roughly $180 million, which is less than the cost of a single F-35C fighter jet. With more species needing and receiving protection all the time, funding needs to be dramatically increased.
There is much that we have lost. No birder today can add the passenger pigeon, Carolina parakeet or ivory-billed woodpecker to their life-list because all three were gone before the Endangered Species Act was passed. And 40 to 50 million bison no longer roam the Great Plains.
But thanks to the Endangered Species Act we can still see black-footed ferrets hunt prairie dogs and we still have bald eagles fishing in our rivers. We should certainly be proud of these accomplishments and there is no question that future generations will thank us for leaving at least a little bit of the world intact.