Endangered Species Act on the Brink

by Karen Heymann

The federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) is one of America’s most successful and important environmental laws, passed unanimously and with broad bipartisan support in 1973, and signed by Republican President Richard Nixon. Since its inception the ESA has successfully prevented the extinction of 99% of the native plant and animal species it has sought to protect, and has recovered many species formerly under its protection, including our national symbol, the iconic bald eagle.

Bald eagle. Photo credit: USFWS

ESA in Jeopardy

This week, the ESA came under attack in what we anticipate to be just the first of ongoing efforts to weaken or repeal this critical law. First, the Trump Administration delayed the start date of protections for the newly listed rusty patched bumblebee, an action which, if not corrected, could drive this once-abundant native species to extinction. Learn more about the importance of pollinators like this native bumble bee.

And in Congress, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held an oversight hearing aimed at undermining and misrepresenting the work accomplished under the ESA. Legislation was introduced by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) to repeal the ESA entirely, claiming “it has never been used for the rehabilitation of species” but rather “to control the land,” a false claim that has no bearing in reality.

Speak Up for the ESA

Please call your members of Congress (here’s contact information for your U.S Senators and Representatives) to let them know that you oppose any attempt at repealing or diminishing the work of the Endangered Species Act and demand they urge the Trump administration to enforce every single aspect of the ESA, including protection for the rusty patched bumblebee. Be sure to include your name and city or town you live.

Mass Audubon is also gearing up to push back against efforts to undermine the ESA and we urge you to join us. We recently signed on to an opposition letter, and will continue to double down on our work with our national partners to protect wildlife.

Hawksbill sea turtle, a federally-protected species found in Massachusetts. Photo credit: Caroline Rogers, NOAA

We are also working at the state level to ensure that our endangered species programs are fully funded, and we are focusing on passing legislation to protect pollinators such as bees and butterflies, as well as the habitat they depend on.

The good news: we are not alone. A recent national poll shows that voters overwhelmingly support the ESA and the role of science in determining which species receive protection under the Act. Now, we just need to make sure our voices are heard.

Karen Heymann is Mass Audubon’s Legislative Director