By John R. Platt
This December will mark the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA), a vital piece of legislation that has been called one of the world’s most effective environmental laws. But despite four decades of successes, the ESA remains poorly understood. Here are five of the biggest myths and misconceptions surrounding the law.
Myth # 1: It doesn’t work
Critics of the ESA are fond of saying that only a handful of species protected by the act have ever recovered enough to be removed from the endangered species list. One of the most recent people to make this claim was U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R–Wyo.) who said last month, “We have a law where only 1 percent of the species that have been listed have actually been delisted. To me, that indicates a law that is failing in its ultimate goal, which is to list species, recover them and then delist them.”
It is true that only 26 species have ever recovered enough to leave ESA protection, but preventing extinction in the face of numerous ongoing threats is a difficult task that can take generations to accomplish. “The reality is that many of the species that we have listed are facing decades or more of habitat loss and degradation,” says Gary Frazer, assistant director for endangered species at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). “Getting them to the point where they no longer face extinction is very challenging and oftentimes a complex road.”
Meanwhile, the vast majority of the plants and animals currently on the endangered species list are now stable and their populations are no longer in decline. “We view success as preventing a species from going extinct—to keep them from sliding further,” Frazer says. “We’ve been very successful at that.” More....