May 15, 2023  Jamie Rappaport Clark,

Defenders of Wildlife

The world’s strongest law for wildlife conservation is once again under vicious and unrelenting attack.

In a reckless bid to roll back the U.S. Endangered Species Act, Congress is holding hearings on new bills that will deal a devastating blow to the ESA, even as biodiversity and climate crises reach a tipping point. These anti-wildlife bills directly aimed at weakening the law are being introduced at an alarming pace of about one per week, already 22 in 2023 alone. This growing effort is part of a larger ESA assault that must be fiercely opposed and soundly defeated.

Credit Defenders of Wildlife

For more than 50 years, the ESA has provided a critical pathway for conserving threatened and endangered species and protecting the ecosystems on which they depend. Despite its importance, relevance and success, Congress has consistently underfunded this important nature protection law, and at this point, is providing only a meager 40 percent of the funding required by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to fully implement it. This doesn’t even include the amount required by the NOAA Fisheries for marine species. Without adequate funding, species that deserve protection will continue to decline and many may cease to exist altogether.

My career has been dedicated to conserving imperiled wildlife species and the important landscapes so critical to their survival and recovery. I know firsthand the role the ESA plays in preventing species extinction. And I have participated in important species restoration efforts over the years and celebrated their recovery thanks to the ESA.

During the first 50 years, the ESA has saved more than 95% of listed species from extinction. This incredible success is truly remarkable, in spite of the fact the law has been continuously starved of precious funding, staff and resources. With one million species vanishing at a rate not seen in 10 million years, we need to do everything we can to shore up successful laws like the ESA instead of tearing them apart or starving their efficient implementation. Without the protections of the ESA, many of these species will disappear in the near future, with amphibians, birds and marine mammals at particularly high risk.

Credit Defenders of Wildlife

Despite the urgency that biodiversity loss and climate change present to wildlife as well as people and the overwhelming support of the public to conserve wildlife and address climate change, there is an escalating and disturbing lack of political will to support the conservation of nature. Public officials too often focus only on short-term goals and are unwilling to make necessary investments to protect our imperiled wildlife.

The ESA is not just a law. It is a lifeline for thousands of plants and animals struggling to survive in a rapidly changing world and a testament to our commitment and responsibility to protect our planet and its biodiversity for future generations. We cannot afford to allow short-sightedness and politics to drive us to the brink of ecological collapse. We must defend the Endangered Species Act with all our might and demand that our elected officials do the same. The survival of our fellow creatures, and ultimately our own, depends on it.



By Andrew Carter, Mary Elizabeth Beetham, Defenders of Wildlife

The U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) was passed with broad bipartisan support and signed into law by Republican President Richard Nixon on December 28, 1973. Nixon realized that saving endangered species was something strongly supported by the public, and since its passing the ESA has been credited with saving the bald eagle, brown pelican, peregrine falcon and numerous other species from extinction. The ESA continues to be popular with the public. Decades of polling consistently show that a significant majority of Americans, across ideological and geographical lines, support it. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the ESA, an opportunity to celebrate the success of this law rather than weaken it.

Despite its success and popularity, the ESA has been under attack for decades by politicians trying to weaken or even repeal it altogether. They have tried to cut funding, weaken protections for species, and single out species to ensure they are excluded from ESA protection. Some of these battles have gone on for decades. Most of the reasons for the attacks are unfounded. But separating myth and reality is essential for understanding the effectiveness of ESA.

Credit Defenders of Wildlife

One of the primary reasons that Congress has targeted the ESA is due to economic interests. The ESA has been criticized for placing restrictions on industries such as logging, mining and oil and gas development. Each industry argues that the ESA places an undue burden on their operations. As a result, members of Congress have been vocal in their opposition of ESA. However, research conducted by Defenders found, for example, that in over more than 88,000 consultations on federal actions, “no project was stopped or extensively altered.” Furthermore, the ESA has detailed permitting provisions that can allow a wide variety of economic activity to go forward, as long as industries take care to minimize and mitigate their impact on imperiled species. Regardless, our economy is dependent on biodiversity, which provides hundreds of billions of dollars in ecosystem services.

Some members of Congress have argued that the ESA is an overreach of federal power and infringes on states’ rights. They argue that states should have more control over the management of endangered species within their borders. The Endangered Species Act is a law of last resort, however, it protects species when state-level management has proven insufficient to keep them from the brink of extinction. But, states and tribal governments still have powerful and important roles in determining the fate of species—both before and after species are federally listed.

Political ideology also accounts for the opposition to the ESA. Some members of Congress argue that the ESA represents an excessive intervention by the federal government in private property rights or that it reflects a broader agenda of environmental extremism. This is often driven by a desire to appeal to certain small constituencies. However, polls over the past few decades consistently have shown the vast majority of Americans support the ESA and its important mission.

Finally, some members of Congress may simply lack an understanding of the importance of the ESA and the role it plays in protecting endangered species. They may not be familiar with the scientific and ecological reasons behind the ESA or the potential consequences of weakening or repealing it. In such cases, education and outreach efforts are key.
Recent legislative attempts to weaken the ESA include 52 bills in 2018 and 15 bills in 2022.

Today, the ESA is under massive assault, yet again. A total of 13 anti-ESA bills have already been introduced in the House to weaken, or even cripple, the ESA. This is a stunning rate of over one new bill per week. Yet, despite some politicians’ efforts to undermine the ESA over the years, it remains an essential tool for protecting imperiled species and their habitats. One of Defenders’ main goals is to defend the ESA against such attacks and to protect this important weapon against extinction. Scientists have warned that we are in the midst of an epic biodiversity crisis with one million species facing extinction in the coming decades. We have a moral imperative to protect threatened and endangered species and their habitats and to prevent extinction. Extinction is irrevocable.

Actions You Can Take

1.    Take it to Social Media
The fight to save endangered species is here! The ESA is under unprecedented attack by Congress. At a time of widespread wildlife extinction and habitat destruction, we should be working to strengthen, not weaken, ESA. It’s our nation’s best tool for helping to stave off the tragedy of biodiversity loss. 
2.    Support Our Efforts
Your donation will help Defenders fight to keep the ESA intact and protect the wildlife we cherish. 
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By Andrew Carter and Chris Parsons, Defenders of Wildlife

The U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) is a federal law enacted in 1973 to protect species at risk of extinction. Under the ESA, a species can be listed as either “endangered” or “threatened” if it is at risk of becoming extinct in all or a significant portion of its range. Listing a species as endangered or threatened provides it with protection from certain activities that could harm or kill the species, as well as additional conservation measures to aid in its recovery. However, the process of adding a species to the ESA can be complex and involves scientific assessments, public comment periods, and legal considerations. In this article, we’ll explore the steps involved in adding a species to the ESA and the implications of listing a species as endangered or threatened.

Credit Defenders of Wildlife

How Does a Species Get Listed? 

First, governmental agencies responsible for endangered species – either the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) or the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) – can decide a listing is needed.  

However, one of the novel aspects of the ESA is that anyone can also submit a request to list a species under the act. In most cases listing decisions are a result of such petitions. 

To be considered for listing, there must be evidence that a species is threatened or endangered because of one, or more, of the following five reasons: 

  • loss of a species’ habitat or range; 
  • over-exploitation of a species; 
  • disease or predation; 
  • failure of other regulations or measures to protect a species; 
  • other natural or manmade factors that threaten the species. 

When deciding whether a species should be listed, the decision can only be based solely on “the best scientific and commercial information available.” Commercial information includes information on how many of the species are being traded or sold.   

It’s a key part of the ESA that economic impacts should not play any role in deciding whether a species is listed. For example, if developers want to build in the middle of an endangered species’ habitat and listing the species could stop the project, this economic impact should have no influence over the listing decision. This is one reason why some developers, mining companies and similar businesses will oppose the listing of a species, and the protection that it brings, as it could potentially stop a financially profitable project for them. During the Trump Administration the agencies issued a regulation allowing them to evaluate the economic impacts of protecting endangered species on industry, even though making a listing decision based on costs is prohibited by the ESA. 

Credit Defenders of Wildlife

The Process of Listing 

When an application, or “petition”, for a species to be listed is received, the relevant government agency (FWS or NOAA Fisheries depending on the species) has 90 days to review the submission and decide whether or not listing might be called for. If they decide that the application should go forward there is a year-long review process, which includes asking the public to submit scientific or commercial information to back up, or refute, the application. Again, the government agencies are only supposed to consider these two types of information, not whether the listing would have an economic impact on businesses or companies.  

If the agencies decide to go forward with listing the species, they publish a “proposed rule” announcing their intentions. Again, further information from the public is sought and after a year if they decide listing is still appropriate, the agency publishes a “final rule” declaring that the species has been listed. 

While a species is being considered for listing, it’s classed as a “proposed species.” While this status doesn’t provide the same legal protections as listed species receive, the aim is that this status should encourage conservation action that helps the species while the listing process is being undergone.  

One of the problems with the current ESA listing process is that it takes a lot of work to list and evaluate species. Unfortunately, Congress frequently limits the amount of money available to process, enforce and enact the ESA, meaning that there is often a large backlog of imperiled species that need to be assessed with few staff and resources available to do this assessment.  

The Endangered Species Act is one of the most important laws to protect wildlife and our natural heritage in the U.S. Defenders of Wildlife is committed to ensuring that the ESA is protected and isn’t undermined by politicians. Defenders also advocates for the full funding of ESA – for its administration, enforcement and implementation.  

You can help in this important work by becoming a member of Defenders of Wildlife

If you want to take an active role in advocating for the conservation of endangered species visit our Activist Hub, which includes tips and suggestions for making your voice heard.   

By Andrew Carter and Chris Parsons, Defenders of Wildlife

This year, the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) turns 50. This landmark law was passed in 1973 and set up a framework to identify, protect and aid the recovery of species threatened with extinction. To date, 54 U.S. species have been delisted from the ESA because they have recovered to the point that they are no longer threatened with extinction. A further 56 species have been downlisted from endangered to threatened, as ESA-related actions have reduced threats upon a species and a significant recovery in their populations. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is currently considering another60 species for downlisting due to an increase in their numbers and ranges. The ESA is a unique law. There are many factors that make this law both visionary and highly effective. The law first reduces threats to imperiled species and then sets into action conservation efforts to help the wild population recover. Some of the factors that make the law so effective include:

The ESA is science-based

When a proposal is submitted to list a species under the ESA, or when the Services decide to evaluate a species, a review is conducted using ““the best scientific . . . data available.” Part of the ESA process is to designate and protect certain areas as ““critical habitat”” for most species that are listed (specific areas with the physical and biological features essential for the species’ conservation) – again, using science to assess and designate this habitat. Crucially, the law dictates that listing decisions must rely on science alone. The science-driven approach to listing, protecting and aiding the recovery of species and their habitats is an essential factor in the Act’s success and the rigorousness by which decisions are typically made. Unfortunately, there are frequent attempts made in Congress to redefine what is meant by “the best scientific . . . data available” and to weaken the scientific rigor of the process, as well as political pressure on agency staff to avoid listing decisions that are thought to adversely impact some industrial processes.

The ESA was written by an expert

Many of the ESA’s strongest substantive provisions were written largely by Dr. Lee Talbot, a visionary ecologist and experienced conservation scientist. Lee’s research helped with the creation of the Serengeti National Park, the Masai Mara National Reserve, and many more protected areas. He also ran the Office of Ecology for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History before going on to serve as Senior Scientist and Director of International Affairs for the Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ) under President Nixon. During his tenure in the CEQ, he helped write the ESA and took the lead in writing several other environmental laws and treaties. Dr. Talbot’s scientific knowledge and practical “boots on the ground” conservation experience played a vital role in drafting this groundbreaking law. Dr. Talbot also served as a science advisor to Defenders of Wildlife and sat on the organization’s Board of Directors for many years.

The ESA was strongly bipartisan

On February 8, 1972, republican President Richard Nixon called on Congress to pass “a stronger law to protect endangered species of wildlife”. The bill that became the ESA was unanimously approved in the U.S. Senate. In the U.S. House of Representatives, the first draft of the bill was approved with 390 votes and just 12 against it. After a joint conference committee was convened to reconcile the Senate and House versions of the bill, the Senate again voted unanimously for the revised bill, and the House voted 355 in support and just 4 against the bill. President Nixon signed the ESA into law on December 28, 1973.

The ESA has been a success

Many species have been saved from extinction thanks to the ESA. There are many high-profile success stories where species have been brought back from the brink — such as the southern sea otter, the California condor, the brown pelican, the humpback whale, the piping plover, the American alligator, the peregrine falcon, the green sea turtle and even the symbol of America: the bald eagle. Critics of the ESA often focus on the low percentage of species that have been delisted – but Rome wasn’t built in a day!

However, more than 95 percent of species listed under the Act are still with us today, whereas if they had not been listed, many could already be extinct. Many of the species listed on the ESA are slow-breeding mammals and recovering from near extinction to a stable population can take decades, especially given that many of the threats facing these species have continued or worsened. These critics include many of the same policymakers that have tried to hamstring the ESA by denying funding to enforce the law or to implement recovery plans.

It ensures that government activities don’t imperil listed species

The U.S. government is a major landowner and a major funder of and permitting authority for construction and development in the U.S. Section 7 of the ESA requires that agencies consult with the FWS to ensure activities the government funds, conducts or authorizes do not jeopardize the existence of, or adversely modify the critical habitat of, threatened and endangered wildlife. Critics often claim that these consultations lead to development being canceled and jobs being lost. However, researchers at Defenders found that out of nearly 90,000 FWS Section 7 consultations (between 2008 and 2015), no projects were stopped or extensively altered. They concluded that federal agencies have learned to design projects with minimal impacts on endangered species and that they’ve been able to work through potential conflicts and make suitable adjustments to proposals. Unfortunately, there have been many attempts to change the law to exclude various government activities from Schedule 7 consultations, especially in recent years.

The ESA was visionary

The ESA is a truly visionary law and has become a model and inspiration for endangered species protection in other nations. Many provisions in the ESA were especially prescient, particularly its recognition of the importance of protecting habitats as well as the species they contain and the best available science mandate, which in the years since has become a component of numerous other laws and treaties. The ESA still works because when it passed, the ESA was far ahead of its time: it was a law for the 21st century written in the 1970s. It is a law that is widely supported among the American public, with a majority of Americans from all ideological backgrounds supporting it. It’s also a law that is a central weapon in the United States’ fight against the biodiversity crisis.