This just in the Endangered Species Act exists. Actually, it has existed for some time now, and it comes with an involved and storied history, a history which began many years before the idea of the act caught fire in the smoking hippie ashes of the sixties’ burgeoning environmentalist movement. The decline, and in some cases extinction, of several once-common American species brought the issues plaguing endangered species to light. Just think, for one moment, of the dodo. Wouldn’t you have liked to see one? Many people feel the same way about the passenger pigeon, a creature that once numbered in the millions and died in 1920 (largely due to overenthusiastic hunters).
The plights of the bison and whooping crane, also nearing extinction in the twentieth century, outraged many Americans. Legislation did pass throughout the first half of the century to protect wildlife, but it mainly targeted animals threatened by poaching, passing over other dangers such as pesticide use and industrialization.
Come the sixties and seventies, frequent protests and books such as Silent Spring attacked and exposed animal-threatening human activity.
At last, the Endangered Species Protection Act of 1966 gave the Departments of the Interior, Defense and Agriculture responsibility and authority to protect creatures on a newly-formed list of endangered species. In the years to come, amendments would add rules, tenets and powers to the original; usually when people discuss the Endangered Species Act, they actually refer to a sweeping amendment to the Endangered Species Protection Act, an amendment signed into law in 1973.
The act now includes invertebrates and plants on its list, as well as a way for United States citizens to file petitions to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration regarding the act and the list. However, even an organization that works on the behalf of wildlife and science has not proved immune to political wackiness. A decade ago, a scandal in the Fish and Wildlife Service involving Julie MacDonald, a deputy assistant secretary with connections to land- and businessfavoring groups such as the California Farm Bureau, had interfered with several policies and scientific reports. One might say that corruption in an agency at some point becomes inevitable, but when actions that clash with the principles of this organization – in this case, scientific fact – affected decision after decision, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s very structure came into question.
Our presentation questions not only whether or not the Endangered Species Act is effective, but also to what extent; is it efficient in helping the species it seeks to protect? Plainly, the act continues to help many species recover; “success stories” include the bald eagle and the American alligator. On the other hand, of the few dozen species removed from the endangered list for various reasons, thirteen have recovered — and nine have actually gone extinct. The act, then, provides a slow road to recovery, but given the fact that nature works on a grand timescale and most species cannot be reasonably counted on to recoup in massive numbers within four decades, this pace might not prove as awful as it sounds. Still, the Act holds the power to take away not just the jobs of the big businesses that many Americans rally against but also those of longtime, multi-generational workers “living off the land” in the name of protecting what may be a single species. Because the government does more to help local animals and plants than the people who live around them in the name of the Act, it and the federal groups that uphold it often come under fire.