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DEFENDING ENDANGERED SPECIES

When it comes to protecting plants and animals at the brink of extinction, there’s no more powerful and important tool than the Endangered Species Act.

Since it was enacted in 1973, the Act’s rigorous, science-based approach to species conservation has resulted in unparalleled, clearly demonstrable gains for species across the country. The law is responsible for saving the bald eagle, the peregrine falcon, the American alligator and many other species, and it’s advancing hundreds more animals and plants further toward recovery every day.

Fueled by public participation that compels government agencies to uphold the law and protect species, the Act is the country’s number-one tool for conserving biodiversity. The Center for Biological Diversity — which leads the country in the number of species protected, through petitions, lawsuits and negotiation — has documented a number of the law’s successes in U.S. regions and with key species on the state level and nationwide and continues to work on systematic assessments of the Act’s performance.

Protection for imperiled species reached a major milestone in July 2011 when the Center signed a historic agreement requiring the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make initial or final decisions on whether to add 757 imperiled plants and animals to the endangered species list by 2018. The agreement capped a decade-long effort by the Center’s scientists, attorneys and activists to safeguard America’s most imperiled, least protected species, including the Pacific walrus, American wolverine, Mexican gray wolf, Pacific fisher, ‘i‘iwi (or scarlet Hawaiian honeycreeper), Rio Grande cutthroat trout, 403 southeastern aquatic species and scores of Great Basin and Pacific Northwest mollusks. The agreement is already working: The Service has already moved protections forward for 33 plants and animals, including 23 Hawaiian species and Florida’s rare Miami blue butterfly.

But the Endangered Species Act is under fire from industry-backed interests in Washington, D.C., that want to eliminate or substantially weaken the Act. In April 2011, Congress attached a rider to a must-pass budget bill that stripped Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in much of the northern Rocky Mountains. The rider marked the first time that politicians, rather than scientists, had taken a species off the endangered species list. The Center and our allies are currently appealing the court decision.

We notched a major victory in the U.S. House of Representatives this summer in defeating the “extinction rider,” which would have defunded programs to protect new species under the Act and designate critical habitat. This win for imperiled species couldn’t have gone forward without bipartisan support; among those voting to kill the amendment were 36 Republicans.

But even following this victory, major attacks on the Endangered Species Act keep coming — so the Center keeps fighting them off.


Learn more about steps being taken to weaken or gut the Act, what we’re doing to defend it, and concrete ways to strengthen it we’ve identified as critical to this law’s continued success.

MILESTONES

Since our inception in 1989, the Center for Biological Diversity has:

    • Won Endangered Species Act protection for more than 430 plants and animals.
    • Helped listed species obtain more than 101 million acres of federally protected critical habitat.
    • Made the Bush administration’s 11th-hour evisceration of the Endangered Species Act a national issue, filing suit the very day the rule changes were finalized — and helping spur the Obama administration to withdraw them.
    • Broke the story in the Washington Post on the Bush-era Interior Department’s detrimental political interference in endangered species decisions.
    • Waged a legal campaign to overturn politically tainted decisions affecting  55 imperiled species and 8 million acres of critical habitat — with dozens of critical habitat decisions and numerous listing decisions already under reconsideration.
    • Petitioned for 225 imperiled species languishing on the “candidate list” without the protections they need, subsequently suing on behalf of all 280 species.
    • Helped defeat former Congressman Richard Pombo’s 2006 attack on the Endangered Species Act through research, intensive public outreach and proving the power of the Act through our ESA Works campaign.
    • Reached a landmark 2001 agreement with former Interior Secretary Gale Norton resulting in federal protections for 29 species and numerous critical habitat areas.


Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service