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Endangered Species Act

"I have today signed ...the Endangered Species Act of 1973.  At a time when Americans are more concerned than ever with conserving our natural resources, this legislation provides the Federal Government with the needed authority to protect an irreplaceable part of our national heritage - threatened wildlife.

"This important measure grants the Government both the authority to make early identification of endangered species and the means to act quickly and thoroughly to save them from extinction.  It also puts into effect the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna signed in Washington on March 3, 1973.

"Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed.  It is a many-faceted treasure, of value to scholars, scientists, and nature lovers alike, and it forms a vital part of the heritage we all share as Americans.

"I congratulate the 93rd Congress for taking this important step toward protecting a heritage which we hold in trust to countless future generations of our fellow citizens.  Their lives will be richer, and America will be more beautiful in the years ahead, thanks to the measure that I have the pleasure of signing into law today."

-Richard M. Nixon (1913-1994)
37th President of the United States

Statement made on signing the Endangered Species Act,
San Clemente, California, 28 December 1973


Editor's Note

The Endangered Species Act is one of President Nixon's greatest legacies to America.  Yet, sadly, this law itself is now endangered.

Well-funded extremist groups and their corporate sponsors seek to cut down ancient forests, mine rocks and drill for oil in America's wilderness preserves.  In order to orchestrate public support for their cause, these groups regularly disseminate false and misleading information about endangered species issues and perennially pressure congress to weaken the act.

One of the most notorious propagandists that writes in support of these groups is Kimberley Strassel of the Wall Street Journal, who claims that the Endangered Species Act "fails both species and humans." The facts, however, show that this law has saved many species from extinction and continues to protect what President Nixon called "a heritage which we hold in trust to countless future generations of our fellow citizens."  The act has also protected and created thousands of jobs.

For example, a recent study found that only 35% of species given protection under the Endangered Species Act were still declining 13 years or more after they had been given protection (Male and Bean 2005).  And some of these declines were attributed, in part, to failures of government agencies to "meet statutory deadlines to list and de-list species, designate critical habitat, publish and revise recovery plans, and develop landowner incentives."  Earlier listing of threatened and endangered species, and "prompt provision of critical habitat and recovery plans" is recommended by ecologists who have studied this problem in detail (Taylor et al. 2005).

Another threat comes from anti-environmental congressmen who block funding for restoration programs.  Their failure to fund these important programs prevents many species from recovering and condemns them to permanent listing as endangered species.  A study by Miller et al. (2002) shows that the Endangered Species Act could be far more successful if adequate funding was provided by congress.

Richard Nixon first rose to prominence in mid-twentieth century with the support of Theodore Roosevelt's influential daughter Alice, who recommended to Dwight Eisenhower that he choose Nixon as his running-mate.  Like Roosevelt, Nixon made environmental preservation a high priority of his presidency.  Besides signing the Endangered Species Act into law, he founded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, preserved important wilderness areas and helped pioneer the concept of using international cooperation to solve global environmental problems (See Stockholm 1972).

References

Male TD, Bean MJ  (2005)  Measuring progress in US endangered species conservation.  Ecology Letters 8: 968-992

Miller JK, Scott JM, Miller CR, Waits LP  (2002)  The Endangered Species Act: Dollars and sense?  BioScience 52: 163-168

Taylor MFJ, Suckling KF, Rachlinski JJ  (2005)  The effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act: A quantitative analysis.  BioScience 55: 360-367


Photograph: the green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) is one of many species of wildlife that has benefited from the Endangered Species Act.  This and other species of sea turtles frequently visit "cleaning stations" on coral reefs, where resident fishes will eat algae growing on the turtles' shell, as well as molting skin and ecto-parasites from the turtles' head and fins.  The above photo was taken while diving in Hawaii by Chris LaCroix of Canada.

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